Getting a Handle on Halloween
Halloween is one of the fastest growing retail and entertainment industries, now recognized as the second largest commercial holiday in the United States. According to the National Retail Federation (NRF), 157 million Americans plan to celebrate Halloween in some way, spending a total of $6.9 billion dollars this year alone. And lest you think this is all for the children, adults are spending more on costumes and entertainment than ever before, especially Millennials. In fact, the NRF reports that 81% of consumers aged 18-34 plan on celebrating Halloween by dressing in costume, attending or hosting parties, and visiting haunted houses.
Theme parks have taken notice the appeal that the scary, macabre, and horrifying has for these young adults. Many of the theme parks now offer Halloween-themed park events targeted specifically and intentionally to Millennials. Parks such as Universal Studios, Six Flags Over Texas, Knott’s Berry Farm, and Busch Gardens go to great lengths to warn that their in-park, immersive entertainment event is too scary for children under the age of 13. (Some say less than 16 years of age!) Each year promises to be more frightening and more realistic than the last. Crowds to these events are so large, it is estimated that 12% of annual park attendance occurs during the month of October, and many of the parks are open only on the weekends.
The reality is, Halloween continues to grow and, unless you hide your head in the sand for a month, there is no getting away from it. As Christians, what are we to do? And how are we to respond? Some will choose to shun this season trying to pretend it’s not there. Others will throw all caution to the wind and chalk it up to just fun entertainment, while still others will struggle to find that balance.
C.S. Lewis wrote in the preface of his book, The Screwtape Letters, “There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight.”
We, as followers of Christ, can learn from Lewis’ observation and strive to find that balance of recognizing that Satan is real, and the world is enamored with darkness, but we can use this fascination to turn the conversation from the dark to the light.
Remember, Satan is active all year long not only during the month of October – While it may appear that the Devil and his minions have the center stage during this season, he is no more active now than he is the rest of the year, and we must continually be on guard. Peter implores us to “Be serious! Be alert! Your adversary the Devil is prowling around like a roaring lion, looking for anyone he can devour” (1 Pet 5:8). The Devil prowls every day of the year, looking for prey. We cannot ignore him nor pretend he doesn’t exist. During this season, as every other day of the year, we must open our eyes and recognize the enemy is on the attack.
We must use cautionary wisdom to protect ourselves and our family from becoming too fixated on evil – While we admit that Satan exists that does not mean we embrace everything. Peter goes on to instruct that we are to “Resist him and be firm in the faith” (1 Pet 5:9). We recognize he is there, but we put up safeguards and boundaries so that we are not lured into his trap of being overly fixated on him.
During a recent visit to my local theme park, we realized that by sunset, the park would transform into an all-consuming, Halloween-themed experience. While I knew the actors were just people dressed up, and everything was just pretend, I also knew that I could not stay. The images of the gruesome characters, the re-created horror scenes, and the music would worm its way into my mind and probably my dreams that night. For me, potential existed for my mind to conjure pictures, stories, and anxiety, fixing my eyes on what is evil versus what is good, far beyond the 60 second “entertainment” I would encounter in a theme park.
We can use the world’s curiosity for the macabre, death, and horror to turn the conversation to hope and life – Halloween is a perfect time to engage the world with the message of the gospel. As our friends, family, and neighbors talk about death, horror, and fear, what better opportunity to turn the conversation? Questions such as “What do you fear the most?” or, “Do you fear death?” can sound very normal during this season of ghouls, and lead to the opportunity to share that the most terrifying thing to face is God’s judgment as one who does not know Him. Witches, ghosts, and zombies have no hold. At the end of the day, “The dominion belongs to Him (God) forever. AMEN” (1 Pet 5:11).
I will be the first to admit that October is not my favorite month because of all the dark, macabre images that seem to be constantly in front of me. But, now is not the time to ignore what is there; rather, I guard my heart and my mind, while intentionally engaging this world with a message of life not death, light not dark, and assurance not fear.