Talking to children about Halloween

A bit of thinking…

Children trick or treating

Why are you having a Light Party? Because your church has always had one? Because it seems like the right thing to do? Because your vicar told you to?

It’s good to reflect on your motivations before you start planning your party or event. Children will have lots of questions about why Light and not ‘Halloween’. Knowing the answer yourself means that you’ll be able to help children take part in your events without feeling like they are missing out.

Halloween can be a difficult time for Christian children’s leaders. In many churches there is a suspicion of the festival – some opt for ignoring it completely, others for setting up a Christian ‘alternative’ to the celebrations. But Halloween has a long history of being allied with Christianity, and taking some time to think about how best to mark this time of year can result in confident celebrations that draw children into a deep, rich understanding of light, darkness, sin, salvation, death and new life.

FAQs

The following questions might be useful as you plan your festivities.

Should I be concerned that Halloween means children are getting involved with occult practices?

Much of Halloween’s history is Christian. The name itself – shortened from All Hallow’s Eve – makes the link between Halloween and All Hallows very clear. From a Christian perspective, Halloween is the first chapter in the story that ends with All Saints’ Day. At Halloween, we confront our fear of death and darkness.

Children will do what they always do when working out the big issues of life: play. At Halloween, we unpack all the standard bogey-men of childhood fairy tales – witches, ghosts, skeletons and vampires – and confront them. We acknowledge that, yes, evil exists and the world is scary and dangerous, and yes, someday we will all die. And then, on All Saints’ Day, we hear the second half of the story – that death is not the end, that on the other side of fear is victory and that we do not become ghosts or skeletons when we die but spend eternity with Jesus, with new life stronger than death.

A child dressing up as a witch doesn’t mean that they are interested in the occult. They are simply working out, through play, what good and evil are, and how to gain control of their own good and evil impulses. Think about when you’ve worked with children – have you ever seen a pretend game where the good guys lose? If a group of children act out the story of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, the child who plays the White Witch will more often than not rejoice with the others at Aslan’s victory!

How can my Light Party show the Christian vision of Halloween/All Saints’ Day?

There are many creative ways to do this, and we would encourage you to come up with something you feel confident in delivering. These thoughts may help guide your thinking:

Where do we begin and end?

The arc of the festival is the transition from darkness to light. How will your celebration reflect that? Will you start with a moment of quiet prayer and a remembrance of those who have died? Will you start in the dark and move into a light-filled place, as you tell the story of God’s triumph over sin and death? Will you start with Bible stories, moving from the darkness of Adam and Eve’s sin to the light of Jesus’ coming? (See Gretchen Wolff Pritchard’s book Offering the Gospel to Children for a detailed description of her Halloween drama activity that does just this.)

The Spiritual Child Network has some great resources on how to celebrate the transition from darkness to light. You can find their overview here and their ‘Goodies and Baddies’ themed party ideas are here.

Will you revive old Christian traditions around Halloween, or create new ones?

Many of the secular aspects of Halloween have their origins in Christianity. Trick-or-treating began in the British Isles with children going from door to door singing for ‘soul cakes’ to commemorate the dead. (You can find the ‘Soul cake’ song on YouTube) The tradition of carving a lantern (to scare away the devil) also came from Christianity – this time in Ireland.

If you have a dramatic movement from darkness to light in your celebration, children will have a lot of excitement to work off so why not have them run around different parts of your space asking for soul cakes, or have a piñata filled with sweets. Doughnuts are also a traditional Christian Halloween treat – the circle represents eternity. You could buy plain doughnuts (or make your own) and encourage children to decorate them.

How will you make this a pastoral opportunity?

Much as we would like to pretend otherwise, many children have experienced the death of a loved one. This is frightening, but by giving children a chance to confront their fears and gain reassurance that their loved ones are with God we can minister to children’s pastoral needs as well as their understanding of Christianity. Provide a space in your celebration to remember lives of those who have died and to pray for their families. You could light a candle for each family you pray for, or perhaps write the names of the people you remember on paper hearts and thank God for them.

Above all, don’t be afraid of Halloween. Halloween is an ancient part of the Christian calendar. Its modern revival may be tinged with American commercialism and concerns about the occult, but it is part of our history and can be joyfully celebrated. Remember, though, that to celebrate it richly and deeply children need a chance to confront the darkness as well as celebrate the light. Christian educator Gretchen Wolff Pritchard comments, ‘Christians, of all people, should be able to admit that, yes, there most certainly are monsters under the bed … The world is a scary place. Our life is not merely a journey in which we may sometimes get tired or lost or discouraged; it is a dangerous venture through a war zone, in which we may be attacked, ambushed, or tempted to join the Enemy’s side; in which we may be assigned to missions calling for all the courage and intelligence we can muster. And in that cosmic battle, we have by our side the unlikely superhero from Nazareth, the meek-and-mild carpenter who proved to be stronger than sin, stronger than death; who by his courage and loyalty has faced and defeated the Enemy, and who invites us, and empowers us, to follow him through the darkness to the final victory, with the saints who “nobly fought of old”.’

These are themes that are explored further in our new booklet Who is the Light?, aimed at children aged 5-8 and a revised version for 8+ titled What do you do when Darkness comes to visit? They are ideal to give as a going home gift at your Light events, or to any children that come to your house trick or treating. They are now available to order from our shop.

More on talking to children about Halloween

Even more FAQs and answers