October 31st. For most Americans this date means one thing: Halloween. Costumes, candy and trick-or-treaters spending to the tune of $2.5 billion making this holiday second only to Christmas in marketing revenue. But good Christians don’t celebrate Halloween. Or do they? Some Protestants may prefer to call it Reformation Day, for after all, that is the date that Martin Luther nailed his Theses to the door at Castle Church in Wittenberg back in 1517. That does pre-date the first usage of the phrase “All Hallows Eve” (commonly known now as Halloween) which didn’t emerge until some 40 years later in 1556.
Ironically, many “good Christians” I know won’t be celebrating either Reformation Day or Halloween. Instead, they will be showing support for their local church by attending a “safe and sanitary” alternative called a Fall Festival. This alternative allows good Christians to invite their neighbors and friends to come to the church and get candy, play games and have some good, clean Christian fun. No pagan witches and goblins allowed. But they can dress up as David or Moses or some other biblical character. All the fun without the pagan revelry, right?
A Halloween proposal
I would like to propose another alternative – that good Christians should indeed celebrate the unique opportunities Halloween affords to meet our neighbors. I think we should consider cancelling (or at least shifting the dates) our church’s alternative Fall Festival and celebrate by being present in our communities with our neighbors who may be far from God. Most of them wouldn’t have come to our Fall Festival anyway. And those who did would’ve stopped by briefly on their way to “real” trick-or-treating.
I’m sure that some of you reading this blog might be more than a little unhappy with my proposal at this point, but stick with me for a moment. The reason I propose that good Christians celebrate Halloween and stay home from the “Christian alternatives” is that Halloween is the only night of the year in our culture where people far from God actually go door-to-door to believing people’s homes… and you’re down at the church hanging out with all your other good Christian friends having clean fellowship and missing out on the opportunities.
engaging our neighbors
Living with missional intentionality means you approach life as a missionary in your context. I lived with my family in South Asia, and we had to be creative and intentional in engaging our Muslim neighbors. We now live in the USA, and we still need to be creative and intentional. That’s why for the past decade we have chosen to stay at home and celebrate the fact that Halloween gives us a unique opportunity to engage our neighbors by being present with them in our community. In fact, last year we had over 700 children and 350 adults come to our doorstep on that one night. And we were ready for them!
Each year we set up a tent in the driveway and give away free coffee and water to the adults who walk with their children. Our small group members and some of my students who live in places where trick or treating isn’t an option man the tent and engage in conversation, giving each of my neighbors a gospel booklet (“The Story” gospel booklets are available with a Halloween distribution rate here: https://store.spreadtruth.com offer). The children are in one line getting candy – even if they are dressed as witches or goblins! Meanwhile, the parents are in a parallel line where we serve hot coffee and cocoa, offering gospel booklets and Bibles to those who don’t have one in their home. In all, we gave away nearly a thousand pieces of literature that night, each with our name, e-mail address, and a website (www.yourpartinthestory.com for adults and thestorymaker.com for children) where they can get more info. Over the years I’ve run into people throughout my community who recognize me as “the one who gives treats to adults on Halloween.” We’ve had people show up at our church’s welcome tent mentioning they learned about us through one of our member’s similar hospitality events in their neighborhoods. The bottom line is that there’s no better way for we who follow Christ to make him known than intentionally being present and “riding the rhythms” of our communities.
So perhaps this year more good Christians should celebrate Halloween and light up their communities by staying home and meeting our neighbors – an option which I believe surely beats the “good Christian” alternative.
 John Simpson and Edmund Weiner, Oxford English Dictionary 2d. ed. (London: Oxford University Press, 1989).
Editor’s Note: A version of this post originally appeared on Between the Times in October 2009.