Every year we get this strange opportunity… Here’s how the Zinn family does Halloween!
Halloween is weird.
Cute kids and large quantities of sugar. Yards strewn with synthetic spiderwebs and battery-powered cackling skeletons and gigantic inflatable witches. A background that includes remembering the dead, pacifying ancient Celtic gods, prayer and fasting… and smashed pumpkins. A mixture of influences Christian, pagan… and just plain strange.
So I FULLY understand when some followers of Jesus decide to have nothing to do with the festivities happening this time of year. Given that we Jesus-followers believe in the reality of evil, should we really be celebrating it? And doesn’t the talk of ghosts and skeletons give opportunity for confusion for those of us teaching our children of the immortality of the soul and the promise of resurrection for those in Jesus? And we won’t even start on the recent sexualization of the whole commercial engine…
I completely respect those of you who keep the whole thing at a distance.
A very long time ago, a man traveled far from his home to a place immersed in pagan worship, driven by his intense love for Jesus and his burning desire to share Jesus-hope. As he worked to learn the best way to communicate the life-changing truth of Jesus, he saw a pagan altar. An altar used to receive sacrifices and prayers to a false god — and he recognized in that altar an opportunity to transform its meaning and build a bridge with those around him. His name was Paul. The place was Athens. The result was people who placed their faith in Jesus and moved forever out of darkness into God’s wonderful light. (Acts 17:16-34)
Over the years, our family has seen some of that same transforming power at work as God has helped us to use Halloween to build bridges with those around us. If you’re interested in being a bridge-builder, here are some ideas that have been fruitful for us:
1. Trick-or-Treat your own Neighborhood
This is the one night each year when most people will open their doors wide to anyone who comes knocking. At the close of the Bible, Jesus is shown continually initiating relationship by knocking on doors (Revelation 3:20). We can do that too! Rather than heading out to the rich neighborhood with the reputation for the most candy, start with your own street. Go with your children to the door, introduce yourself, shake a hand, tell them where you live. (And make very sure your kids are prepped to be polite!)
Brian and I, as we walk from house to house, remind each other of names — and when we get home, we often draw out a map of the neighborhood and connect as many names with houses as possible.
We also, after finishing our own neighborhood, have loaded up our kids and driven to the neighborhood we used to live in — to trick-or-treat them. A simple way to build just a little more connection in those relationships.
2. Man your Door.
Once we had some older kids who could hand out candy and warm greetings at the house, Brian and I both could head out with younger ones to talk to n
eighbors. But one way or another, we have always made sure that if someone comes to our door, they’ll have a person to greet them.
Set lots of lights outside so your house looks welcoming. Be friendly. Comment on fun costumes. Be generous with the candy. If parents are accompanying their kids, shake their hands or at least call out a greeting to them. And if you happen to set out a jack-o-lantern carved with a cross or another design identifying yours as a Christian home while you extend that hospitality — well, so much the better!
3. Make a Fall Tradition — with Extra Space
Pumpkin patches. Corn Mazes. Pumpkin-carving parties. Group trick-or-treating (in your neighborhood!). Make a fall tradition, build those memories — and when you do, invite along another family or some friends who do not know Jesus. These activities require little to no planning, little to no hosting effort — and provide all kinds of laugh-together moments.
Laughter can be a stepping stone to friendship, and friendship can be a stepping stone to trust. And trust creates a beautiful environment for Jesus conversations.
4. Tell a Jack-o-Lantern Jesus Story
That pumpkin is shiny on the outside, gunky on the hidden inside. That sounds a little like me. And if that pumpkin is going to have light shining out of it, that gunk has got to go and that pumpkin has to change. Could Jesus carve a Jack-o-Lantern out of my life?
For a step-by-step outline for using this premise to tell a gospel story, check out this link here: The Pumpkin Gospel Presentation
And while you’re carving the pumpkins and telling the story with your own kids, why not invite a few neighborhood or school friends to join you? (And here’s a hint on extending those invitations… If you gravitate toward the kids with great, healthy families, they may be saturated with fun already and low on patience. HOWEVER, if you help your kids identify those who are lonely and without as much support, those kids’ appetites for joining you will be FAR greater… And the novelty of an adult slowing down to tell everyone a story may just leave a lasting imprint.)
For another great story for this time of year, check out Ezekiel 37:1-14… And then every time you see a skeleton, let it be a reminder to you of what God can do with dry bones!
5. Tithe that Halloween Candy!
Here is an opportunity to teach your children to give, to show a missionary family that they are not forgotten — and to spare your own family a bit of the excessive candy consequences with which most of us are all too familiar! This can also be a part of stirring in your children a heart for missions. As Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6:21 What greater treasure for a kid than that candy?
I’ll never forget the night the kids were going through their freshly gathered Halloween candy to separate out their “tithe” we were sending to a family with some kids their age. One of my sons picked up the lone Peppermint Patty. He looked at me thoughtfully. “Peppermint Patties are my favorite. But this one is going to be for him, because I really want for him to get to have it.” What more could a mom want to hear?
If you don’t personally know any missionaries living abroad, check in with your church. They should certainly be able to direct you!
6. Help Make a Harvest Party Happen!
My own church, Discovery Community, knows how to party. Lots of other churches do too. Step up and volunteer at your church — or invite some friends and go to the party together. Harvest Parties may just be the easiest church invite you’re ever going to come across. Give a single mom the night off and pack out your car with a bunch of kids to haul along with you. You get to identify yourself as a Jesus-follower and show some kindness, the kids get to build a connection with your church — and those factors alone can be enough to open all kinds of doors for spiritual conversations.
But encourage your church to hold their party on a night OTHER than Halloween so that you can still trick-or-treat your neighborhood!
For more info on Discovery’s Harvest Party, or to contact Discovery staff to volunteer, go to: Harvest Festival
Halloween is weird.
But it is also, quite literally, an open door. Let’s be people so committed to loving Jesus and helping others to know his love that we look for all kinds of doors around us.
And then, like Jesus, let’s step up and knock. (Revelation 3:20)
And I’d love to hear your ideas for bringing meaning to Halloween!