As garish as your neighbor’s Christmas decorations might be, Halloween is still the holiday of horror. As this series of the horror genre continues, I felt it appropriately timed to speak of its own day.
Christians have rarely felt comfortable celebrating Halloween. There are loopholes, it seems, renaming Halloween a Fall Festival or Harvest Celebration. Not that there’s anything inherently wrong in the Trunk-or-Treat like names, it’s just that it doesn’t fool anyone. We know it’s Halloween and we know costumes and candy will be involved. Sometimes people are afraid of the historical roots of the holiday, celebrating ghosts and ghouls in the most pagan of ways. So there is a little bit of schizophrenic observance: we like it, we don’t like it. Even in my own home growing up, some years my mother felt it best to not celebrate Halloween, other years it was alright. And this struggle can be a very good thing for a Christian to think through. I’m not going to come down on saying, “Everyone should do this or everyone should do that.” That’s your job.
One thing Christians aren’t particularly known for, however, is thinking through ideas deeply and coming up with adept responses to our own culture’s questions. And I get that, it’s hard and it takes time. Actually, this quality of thoughtful living is hard to find in any kind of group.
So, as one navigating your way through life, here is one brief thought concerning Halloween and I hope it spurs on conversation. I believe Halloween is the only holiday we have that truly faces death. I think that’s a positive thing, especially in our context. In facing death, Halloween allows us to look it square in the eyes and laugh. Yes, on Halloween we get to laugh at death.
Now there are two ways to laugh at death. One is to remove ourselves from it. Death makes us uncomfortable (as it should), and we would rather be comfortable, so let’s pretend like it doesn’t exist. Death is not something that we encounter in our daily lives and we try to ignore its inevitability, even poke fun at it. We laugh at death sardonically, without respect. We tend towards the ironic and put our fear in air-quotes, as we knowingly roll our eyes. These are all tactics to keep us removed from our common fate. We will all die.
This remind me of Regina Spektor’s song, “Laughing With”:
No one laughs at God in a hospital
No one laughs at God in a war
No one’s laughing at God when they’re starving or freezing or so very poor…
But God can be funny
At a cocktail party when listening to a good God-themed joke…
(If you’re not familiar with her work, especially that song, you are definitely missing out.)
The other way we can laugh at death is if we understand its limited hold on us. As a Christian I believe that death is not the absolute end. And though I respect the fact that we are all born into death, I can laugh authentically, without irony, because the sting of death has been removed. Something that should be ultimately scary, something that I should try and laugh sardonically at, now has no power over me. That deserves a good laugh. That’s how the woman in Proverbs 31 is able to laugh without fear of the future. That’s where I love seeing little children dressed up like monsters of horror. We are laughing at death and rightfully so! All the fears that these monsters embody have been overcome by the horror of God who became man and who was brutally murdered. The death of Christ brought the death of death.
So if you were just interested in thinking more about how we make sense of this world, or if you are a Christian thinking through Halloween, I hope this post is helpful. And this is just one thought, surely there are many more. Leave yours below!
Read other posts in the Theology of Horror series.