If, as it should be, Christianity is marked by a desire to, as scripture tells us, do justice and love kindness (Micah 6:8), if we are truly to love our neighbors and understand that all the people whom God places in front of us are our neighbors, then Halloween is the most Christian of holidays in the Western calendar, at least as presently celebrated.
Yes, Halloween. You heard me right.
Not Christmas, not Thanksgiving, not even Easter. Halloween.
Sure, I acknowledge that in the liturgical calendar, other days have more significance than All Hallow’s Eve (or All Saints the next day, or even Reformation Day for those of us in that tradition). Easter is, honestly, my favorite holiday for deeply theological reasons, of course. But Halloween comes next, because it is only on Halloween when we truly live out loving our neighbors. It is Halloween when we are our best selves (or at least, expected to be). And I’m not only speaking to Christians here, despite my opening gambit–because part of the beauty of Halloween is that it’s become so secularized that its observance is open to literally everyone.
But, on Christmas, you say, we give presents. Yes, but we give presents only to those whom we expect presents from, or those whom we consider “our own”–our family, our close friends, our coworkers if we get roped into an awful secret santa thing that no one actually wants to do. Likewise, we celebrate Thanksgiving and Easter with those we consider closest already.
On Halloween, though, we lovingly prepare our houses for complete strangers. We buy candy in the hopes of delighting those strangers. We set up decorations in the hopes that those strangers will be thrilled by them (it’s worth noting that scaring people for Halloween really only is fun if it’s what they are looking for–we scare the people who want to be scared, we comfort those who are scared more than they want). We open our door to children we have never met–and may not ever recognize because they are wearing disguises. We give them gifts simply because they appeared and asked. We expect nothing in return. We are pleased simply to give, because that’s part of the game.
(And a note to all of you who complain about trick or treaters, withhold candy from older trick or treaters, or are otherwise stingy about Halloween: really? You’re gonna be that person?)
Halloween is the one day of the year when it’s socially acceptable for people to go out in the streets and greet strangers. It’s one day of the year when it’s socially acceptable for people to look any way they please, to be anything they please, and they will be greeted with delight all the same.
Other holidays might have once had this community aspect–consider, for instance, caroling–but for the most part our celebration of holidays (in American culture at least; can’t really speak for anyone else) has become insular, limited only to our existing social circles, which increasingly don’t even include our next door neighbors.
Unfortunately, even Halloween is becoming increasingly insular. We must fight against the tide of fearful “trunk or treat” events that are meant as alternatives to neighborhood trick or treating, just one more way that many of us use our cars and our mobility to hide ourselves away from those around us.
But there’s really nothing to be afraid of, so there’s no reason not to let your children go trick or treating (in fact, if they are old enough or have old enough siblings, you don’t even need to go with them! I honestly can’t remember my parents actually accompanying me trick or treating). But, you say, strangers do horrible things to children! Not nearly at the rates that people who are not strangers do. Generally strangers treat each other decently, and Halloween has its own rules that enhance that general rule–you trick your friends, you treat your neighbors.
For instance, consider the perennial rumors of tampered candy–whether you learned it as pins, poison, or (in a more recent twist) edibles. There are no documented cases of poisoned Halloween candy being distributed to trick or treaters. It is true that there have been a couple of very tragic cases in which a child was poisoned with Halloween candy; but, in every single one of these cases, the person who poisoned the candy was targeting a specific child who knew them well. It’s usually a family member. Strangers, then, can be trusted better with your children’s safety than your family.
And that really is the beauty of Halloween: it’s a time when we can selflessly give without expectation of return. It’s a time when strangers become your neighbors. It’s a time when you can truly show love and grace.
All while decorating with every horrible thing you can imagine, because sometimes loving someone means scaring them.