Halloween, the most Christ-like holiday of the year

In the small Southern town where I grew up, a handful of religious folks tried their best to wreck Halloween every year. They’d stage these “Hell House” events depicting eternal damnation for people who died in drunk-driving accidents, or got abortions, or committed suicide. What they lacked in grace and mercy they made up for in judgment and condemnation.

Less alarming were those who handed out religious tracts instead of candy, presumably in the belief that a 10-year-old looking to score some M&Ms might be persuaded by an unsolicited reading assignment.

These tactics mainly just seemed sort of lame when I was a kid but I have a new way of looking at Halloween now: It’s the most Christ-like holiday of the year.

The Pew Research Center is just one of the organizations that’s been charting a decline in Christians in America over the years.

A 2015 piece titled “America’s Changing Religious Landscape” breaks down the trend by various subgroup, and illustrates our country’s religious shift with some handy charts.

It’s interesting to note that the largest growth isn’t a different religion but none at all. Christianity isn’t being overtaken by other faiths so much as unaffiliation.

Halloween, on the other hand, is going strong. The National Retail Federation reports that Halloween spending is projected to hit an all-year high this year, at $8.4 billion. “U.S. consumers are expected to spend an average of $82.93, up from last year’s $74.34, with more than 171 million Americans planning to partake in Halloween festivities this year,” the report says.

At a glance, the decline in Christianity and upswing in Halloween spending could seem like the kind of trend that those Hell House practitioners or Bible tract dispensers might fear spells the end of times. I think it’s just the opposite.

I never disobey Scripture more than on the holiest days of the Christian calendar. When people who haven’t darkened the door all year (much less joined any building fund committees) squeeze in on Easter Sunday and threaten to turn my usually roomy pew into a fire code violation, I confess I have a hard time loving my neighbor as myself. When contemplating the large and loud personalities preparing to collide at Christmas it can be hard to remember that love is patient and love is kind.

Halloween is different. The small Southern town I live in now gathers for an annual parade, and families of all backgrounds gather for the happy procession before hitting the trick-or-treat trail.

People I might not otherwise meet come to my door, and neighbors I don’t see often enough come out to visit. We have a pretty hopping street on Halloween, and last year, in addition to the steady stream of trick-or-treaters, we had a visit from a young couple who had loaded up on candy only to receive no takers in their cul-de-sac. Could they set up shop at our house? they asked. We poured a couple of extra glasses of wine and watched as our new friends delighted in dispensing their mountain of treats.

I revere our worship celebrations every Christmas and Easter, but Halloween feels like an even more authentic time of fellowship. It’s the moment of the year where we greet strangers as friends and share with them our bounty.

Oh holy night.