A few years ago when I was living in New York City, I walked down to my local store to do the grocery shopping, and I was confronted by skeletons and ghosts hanging from the ceiling. Each aisle had giant ‘cobwebs’ across them, and there were suspicious blood splatters painted onto the floor. As an Australia living in America, I was quite amused by the experience, and it took me a minute or two to click that it was October and Halloween was just around the corner. However, I soon realised that it was not just the local Morton Williams Grocery Store that embraced the commercialisation of Halloween. Many restaurants and store fronts were also decorated with pumpkins and witches on broomsticks; there were Halloween sales in clothing stores; and of course the NYC Halloween Parade took place in the Village.
Now that I’m back in Australia, I am even more amused by the way in which Halloween has crept into the country’s mainstream culture. Halloween costumes are available to purchase at Kmart; you can buy a carving pumpkin at the supermarket (or, if you want an Australia twist on Halloween, you can carve a watermelon). As a country we have no historical affiliation with Halloween, but one of the impacts of globalisation is that media, ideas, cultures and celebrations are shared across borders easily. And research indicates that Halloween in a growing trend in Australia.
Of course, as engagement in Halloween increases in Australia, many Christians are concerned that a celebration of Halloween is a celebration of evil and death - many things that Christians stand in opposition to. (If you want to read more about the origins of Halloween, we recommend this article). But, what if Halloween is actually an opportunity to share the Good News? What if it is an opportunity to meet with people and see a glimpse of The Kingdom of God?
Last year on Halloween, I spent most of the day writing an assignment and decided to go for a walk to take a break. As I walked through my neighbourhood I noticed something extraordinary. Families were out trick-or-treating; kids were dressed in superhero costumes, neighbours were coming out of their houses to talk to each other. My neighbourhood was alive in a way that I had never seen before. My community is characterised by disadvantage, and many of the kids engaged in my church come from hurting homes. Yet, I saw families together. Kids were excited and playing with their parents. Halloween was bringing families and the neighbourhood together. What if Halloween in an opportunity for the Church to engage in their neighbourhood? Let’s face it - the role of church in Australia is changing and people rarely just walk into our church buildings. Halloween is a perfect opportunity to walk the streets of your neighbourhood and get to know people.
The call to “love thy neighbour” is threaded through the bible. Yet, I wonder if we have lost the meaning of who are neighbour is? In God Next Door, Holt explains that in the Old Testament, the neighbour was understood to be those in closest proximity to the community (although there are also references to the foreigner or person seeking asylum). To love their neighbour, the Israelites were to engage in “relationships of responsibility” with those closest to them. They were to build a community in which every inhabitant experienced compassion, respect and self-worth. This teaching is echoed throughout the New Testament as well. Through his parables and interactions with people, Jesus reinforced the importance of loving God and loving your neighbour as yourself. Furthermore, in a time where pious purity and strict religious boundaries were observed – Jesus challenged who was considered a neighbour. The beggar, the tax collector, the widow were all invited into The Kingdom, and the Jewish people were encouraged to create communities where those on the outside could experience love and dignity.
After my walk I went online and saw several posts from Christians who were very against Halloween - either because of perceived associations with evil, or because of a fear of Americanisation of our culture, or just because they didn’t want people knocking on their door. I understand this resistance, but what concerns me about this way of thinking is that it encourages Christians to avoid the world around us, the very world God calls us to serve. It sets up a binary of good and bad - Christianity is good, and the secular culture is bad. Yet, God is in the ‘secular culture’ - God is in our neighbourhoods - actively working to redeem them. God wants those in our neighbourhoods to experience love, compassion and respect. And we’re invited to participate in that work. In Partnering with God, Edge and Morgan state that we are a sent people. We are not sent to the four walls of our church buildings, but to the people in our neighbourhood. Salvationists are all called to engage in the mission of God, which is to join in God’s work to usher in the Kingdom. Ulimately, we are called to love and serve our neighbours.
Halloween is an opportunity to participate with God working within our neighbourhoods. It is an occasion to get to know those who live closest to us. As Edge and Morgan put it - “First, we need to see where God is at work in the neighbourhood and discern how we can join in. If we are here for the sake of the community around us, we must be serious about understanding our neighbours and their needs” We begin to understand the neighbourhood and its needs when we meet and engage in relationship with our neighbours – and I think Halloween presents a unique opportunity to do just that.
Here are some practical responses to Halloween;
- Still not convinced? Do your own research around Halloween. Where did the tradition start and what does that mean for Australia?
- Consider handing out Kid Zones instead of lollies.
- Considering hosting a Halloween street party!
- If you’re not comfortable dressing up as ghosts, or zombie, considering dressing up in something aspirational. What do you kids want to be when they grow up? Do you want to honour an inspirational character – dress up like them!
- We’ve love to hear any of your suggestions! Get in contact.
 Holt, 2010, pp. 65. God Next Door: Spirituality & Mission in the Neighbourhood.
 Holt, 2010, pp. 66. God Next Door: Spirituality & Mission in the Neighbourhood.
 Holt, 2010, pp. 74. God Next Door: Spirituality & Mission in the Neighbourhood.
 Edge & Morgan, 2017. Partnering with God.
 Edge & Morgan, 2017, pp. 94. Partnering With God.