My spouse and I both grew up in churches that didn’t celebrate Halloween, however I was lucky enough to have a mom who adored all things costumed and candy-coated.
While we were discouraged at church from reading books like Harry Potter my mom supported my love of all things fairytale and folklore. She would buy me books on dragons and witches, the fae and ancient mythologies. She fuelled my present day love of Halloween. A love I’ve passed on to my spouse and kid.
But Halloween, and All Soul’s Day, has a deeper meaning for me now. My mother passed away when I was 19, early in November. All Souls Day is one of the days of the year I remember her. Her light, her smile, her creativity and warmth.
In 2020 I was delighted to see November 1st landed on a Sunday. In a year when we were not able to gather for funeral and memorial services, it felt important to take a day to remember the loved ones who had died.
Halloween, and All Soul’s Day, offer us an annual opportunity to engage our families in the power of story, the truths fairytales and folklore offer us, in all things dark and mysterious, and in the mystery of death.
Part of being able to accept my mother’s death, even has a teenager, was that we had talked about it. Why do we wait until a child loses a loved one to talk about death? How can we begin to prepare our families for this inevitability throughout the year? Similarly, in the United Church, we sometimes leave death for Easter, forgetting to remind one another–and ourselves–each week that God has triumphed over death, that it no longer holds power over us.
That said, here’s some ways we can celebrate Halloween/All Soul’s Day as a faith community.
Learn the story – Where did these holidays come from? For many white folks there is a disconnect between their identity as a white person and their ancestry. Explore the story of Samhain that comes from the Celtic tradition, learn about the Western Christian feast of All Saints.
During the Samhain festival the souls of those who had died were believed to return to visit their homes, and those who had died during the year were believed to journey to the otherworld. People set bonfires on hilltops for relighting their hearth fires for the winter and to frighten away evil spirits, and they sometimes wore masks and other disguises to avoid being recognized by the ghosts thought to be present.“Halloween”, from the Encyclopaedia Brittanica
Take time to remember our loved ones – Introduce your families to different rituals we can use to remember those who have died. Light candles, decorate a photo frame. We have lots of ideas on our page on Death & Dying.
Explore the dark – One of the ways we can combat racism in our faith communities is by learning to celebrate the dark. Halloween is a wonderful time to do this. Darkness brings mystery and excitement, we enjoy the wonder of staying out late, of the moonlight and stars. We engage with parts of our humanity we don’t often, using play as a way of exploring our desires and fears. What are some ways you can explore your communities desires and fears? Is there a night time activity you can do together?
Over time, in our English language, we have become accustomed to equating evil as black, and purity as white. […] Our ingrained – and at times binary – notions of black/white and darkness/light as inherently good and evil can guide how we treat each other.“Speaking of Darkness in Advent“, by Adele Halliday
Encourage play – For some reasons adults need permission to be silly. And, you know what, as Jean-Daniel Williams (family ministry connoisseur) says: When adults give themselves permission to be silly we give the children and youth around us permission too.
Halloween is a wonderful time to play together as a whole community. Dress up! Play games. Decorate pumpkins together. Watch a spooky movie and talk about it (we highly suggest ParaNorman, Coco, and Monster House). Have a costume making party, bring old clothes and craft supplies together, grab the glue gun and DIY some great disguises (this makes Halloween accessible to everyone).
Host an event – Hold and afternoon event for families. It could be a Messy Church event, a costume party, or a trunk-or-treat event (a safer alternative to traditional trick-or-treating). You can pick a biblical theme (Frankenstein’s Lab where we explore how we’re awesomely made by God) or go from something more secular.
Whatever you choose to do, we here at JG&G hope you’ll lean into this season of darkness and mystery, or memory and play. That you’ll take full advantage of this opportunity to explore our dreams and fears. Happy Halloween, friends.