Last Tuesday, I found myself trying to finish an outside project before dark, just as a growing number of people began to walk down our alley. Cars drove by searching for parking. Children laughed and parents called out for them to be alert. Dusk came and went. Every trip I made to the garage for more tools had me glancing at the now steady march of flashlight beams and silhouettes of people with lawn chairs. They kept me from enjoying any fruit of my labor, because I could hear where they were going: the Halloween parade. Over the rooftops, I heard the muscle cars growl and the fire trucks chirp their sirens. After each drum core riff, I applauded silently. I could see in my mind the kids in costumes and clowns on stilts, the corridor lit up with color and play. One lousy block away, the street hosted thousands of my candy-hungry, family-friendly, small-town neighbors, and here I was trying desperately to block out every sound wave of fun. I was missing it. Funny thing, this Halloween parade. Until two years ago, I wanted nothing to do with it and didn’t want my family to endorse it either. “That’s a bad aspect of culture and we shouldn’t participate,” I had said. I passed through elementary school with annual excuses to miss Halloween parties. I never once donned a Spiderman or Incredible Hulk costume. We were Christians, and I knew plenty of biblical reasons why we shouldn’t meddle with the devil. This may sound like the introduction to a recent conversion, one in which my abhorrence for darkness turned gradually into a realization of religious childishness, releasing me now to enjoy this controversial holiday. It isn’t. I just don’t know what to do about Halloween. It does not keep me up at night, but the holiday is upon us, and—well, I’m either going to turn off the porch light or participate. Either way requires a decision. Tension
I feel caught between a fundamentalist upbringing and enjoying a particular aspect of U.S. culture. Am I allowed to want to love the Halloween parade? Should I give out candy when a zombie rings the doorbell? In Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling, Andy Crouch asks a question that I need to answer regarding this bit of tension: “What does [Halloween] make possible?” Based on my disappointment Tuesday night, I’d have to say that Halloween, in our town, makes a parade possible. It creates a reason for us to gather. It makes introductions possible, cheering for our kids’ classmates who are marching in the band possible, eating Peppermint Patties possible, hanging out with friends who don’t (and do) attend our church possible. As a town, we enjoy entertainment at other times of the year also, but few with so much energy. And none with so much individual expression. Dressing up does something to us, doesn’t it, like when we throw on a sports uniform, or a wedding tux for a friend, or a power business tie? Clothing matters. Crouch asks again, “What does [Halloween] assume about the way the world should be?” This is a tough one, but costumes seem to provide a clue. Scary garb may indeed permit kids to celebrate death; to enjoy the darkness. I don’t like this. But it also hints at a cathartic attempt to deal with death and violence. My friend told me that his son had been frightened by a gruesome costume, only to later ask if he could dress up the same way. When my friend asked why in the world he wanted to do such a thing, his son replied, “Because then I won’t be afraid of it.” I always have the option to refuse death; to turn from it as if it doesn’t exist. I can pretend myself into asylum where no evil can enter. But this simply isn’t true. Pain comes. Evil comes. Bad things happen to good people. Jesus never promised anything else in this “now but not yet” state of affairs, and though I don’t have to wear a hockey mask and fake blood to affirm it, reality is so. Perhaps Halloween draws the masses because it provides a release valve for this reality. I can’t excuse my sadness for missing the Halloween parade. At the same time, I like that my wife is hosting a Fall Harvest party in the public school instead of the gory ensemble of ghost stories, magic spells, and witch-inspired snacks. Is that my upbringing lingering? Is it legitimate conviction? We already decorate the town Christmas tree and join the mayor for hymns and carols on Black Friday. How do we also respond to the high calling of communal living when the activity doesn’t jive with a lot of Christians?
Oct 19, 2012 Somebody’s Knocking by Sam Van Eman