Halloween, for Christians, can be a confusing, challenging even irritating time of year. Some might be tempted to turn off all the lights and pretend not be home, others to turn them all on and throw a light party!

When those of us of a certain age were young, there were a few trick or treaters, the odd pumpkin, apple-bobbing and occasional scary mask doing the rounds just after the two children’s TV programmes finished for the day. Now it’s been pumped up, Americanised, commercialised and fills the supermarket shelves with sugar and plastic before the summer sun has chance to put its hat away.

But is Halloween something Christians should be afraid of? Or be bah humbug about and resent other people’s enjoyment of it? Or is it a fantastic opportunity to embrace that life-changing journey from dark to light and celebrate the dawn?

How did Halloween start?

The roots of Halloween are complex and woven into Medieval Christian tradition, Celtic culture and paganism, each morphing the festival for its own aims. But all share the common theme of confronting darkness with light, whether that’s lighting pumpkin lanterns, singing to the heavens to plead for souls in return for food (the origins of trick or treating) or enduring the night of All Hallows Eve to celebrate the victorious light that comes in the morning with All Saints Day.

That journey from dark to light is extraordinarily powerful. What story, children’s or otherwise, is any good if it doesn’t show the light without the darkness?

In real life too, we all have to confront the darkness. There are times when we feel small, afraid and powerless. It’s that rich transformation from darkness to light that brings the drama, excitement and truth and underpins the Christian faith. With Halloween now such a popular event with children at the centre, working out what it all means and how we respond is especially relevant.

What if children want to dress up as a witch not an angel?

Taking part in a Light Party is a wonderful way to celebrate Halloween but how do we respond when our children want to dress up as witches, vampires or Stephen King’s It?

Scripture Union says, “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.”

They go on to make the point that in pretty much every child’s pretend game, the good guys always win – children have an innate hope and belief that good will always triumph.

A few years ago, the Revd Ruth Pyke, who was then the children’s advisor to the diocese of St Albans, held a Halloween sleepover in a secondary school, complete with skeletons, streamers and ghoulish decorations. During the night, she led activities to help the young people understand the significance of all that can bring fear and then, as the day broke, renounced it in the light that the saints bring on All Saints Day.

Monsters under the bed against an unlikely superhero from Nazareth

Christian educator and author Gretchen Wolff Pritchard says, ‘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 … 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’.’

Halloween is just half the story

Halloween is just half of the story, a dark and scary half that symbolises how we all feel at times, confronting the truth that evil exists and that we will all, one day, die. All Saints Day completes the story, it’s the light that follows with the power to renounce the scariness, and offer hope and freedom from all that keeps us in the dark. “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.” (Scripture Union).

Revd Caspar Bush says that, at this time of year, he likes to reflect on Philippians 4: 8 from the Good News Bible:

In conclusion, my friends, fill your minds with those things that are good and that deserve praise: things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, and honourable.

If you want to take your children to a Light Party or All Hallows Eve celebration this year, check out your local church and see what’s going on. St Kea near Truro are running two events, St Buryan in Land’s End are inviting children to join them for some traditional seasonal fun like apple-bobbing and biscuit decorating.