What I’ve Learned About Halloween

October.

The air grows crisp and all around us the earth shows signs of death as it crawls into hibernation.

Thanksgiving comes and we roast turkeys and eat pumpkin pie, surrounded by family and friends.

The yard disappears beneath heaps of brown, orange, red and yellow leaves; vibrant even in their death.

Pumpkins, spiders, ghosts and witches appear everywhere.

Storefront windows, flyers in the mail, calendar pages and even the search bar on Google.

Before we know it another month has gone and Halloween night creeps up on us.

Many Christians will stop and think twice as this holiday approaches each year.

Most of us know people who refuse to have anything to do with the holiday, wanting no association with the darkness, evil and greed that tends to accompany it.  They will turn off their lights tonight and maybe pull their kids out of school for the day, wanting to avoid witch colouring pages, classroom haunted house projects and ghoulish themed dances.

Most of us also have Christian friends who will choose to celebrate it with no thought, allowing their littles to troop through the streets dressed in costumes ranging from princesses and robots to mummy brides and blood smeared skeletons.

How should Christians approach this holiday?

Is there room for compromise?

Does it matter?

I’m not going to answer those questions for you, but what I do want to do is share with you what our family will be doing tonight and why.

While this is not right for every family it works for us at this age and stage.  I have been the parent searching for the ‘right fit’ for this holiday in years past so I wanted to share in case it might be helpful to others trying to make these decisions.

In years past we have held in-home costume parties, trick or treated through our neighbourhood, collected food for the local food bank and handed out candy to neighbourhood friends.

What we’ve settled on the past couple years is a family movie night with a bowl full of candy.

When trick or treaters come to the door we answer cheerfully with a smile and something like,

“Sorry, we actually don’t celebrate Halloween but I hope you have a fun night!”

In coming to this decision for our family, these are some of the things I have learned.

  1. There are many reasons Christians site not to celebrate Halloween, but not all of them are biblically accurate reasons. 

    For example, many people choose not to celebrate because they are afraid of the darkness associated with Halloween or they believe in common superstitions about this night and it’s origins.  As people who have been redeemed and saved from Satan’s power, we no longer need to fear him.  He has already been defeated and there is no power on earth, even on Halloween night, that can undo Jesus work on the cross to save us from this bondage.  (1 John 4:4, Colossians 2:15) I am certain he is busy on Halloween night, but only because he is busy every single night of the year.  We are taught as Believers to be on guard, watching for him and being prepared for his attacks any time, any where.  (1 Peter 5:8)

  2. Halloween presents many opportunities for teachable moments with your children.

    You’ll miss these if you choose to avoid the topic altogether.  If by chance you live in the type of neighbourhood I did as a child, on a farm in a Mennonite community, you might be able to watch this holiday go by with very little notice.  For most of us, however, the approach of Halloween in the local Dollarama alone will provide plenty of discussion material.  If blood covered mummy masks make you uncomfortable, figure out why that is and tell your children about it.  Whether you are choosing to participate or not, you probably have some opinion on whether or not your seven year old daughter will go out dressed as a “mummy-bride” for instance.  Try to figure out how to explain to your children, even your very small ones, what you are uncomfortable with and why.  Make it as clear and simple as possible without teaching them to be judgy about their friends and neighbours who may choose differently.

  3. Don’t over dramatize the little things. 

    If your Kindergartener comes home with a picture of a witch they coloured at school today, please don’t tear it up and throw it in the garbage.  Take the time to compliment them on the wonderful job of colouring they did and leave it at that.  If in following days they decide to start dressing up in witch costumes or including zombies in their imaginary play time those might be opportunities to sit down and discuss darkness and evil and set some boundaries, but the colouring page is just that.  A colouring page.  A four year old is probably not ready to hear about the origins of Halloween, modern day witchcraft and Satanic symbols.  You telling them will only scare them or unintentionally fascinate them with the subject.  Similarly if you are going to quote scripture, make sure it is simple and truly significant to the topic at hand.

  4. Don’t take a firm stance too quickly one way or another.  

    I’m grateful for the years we had with our daughters to grow into this decision we’ve come to.  Not only does it make me more confident in the decision we’ve come to, it also allowed time for them to grow into it as well and align their values with ours gradually.  It was a wonderful opportunity to model prayer, seeking scripture and listening to the Holy Spirit in our personal lives.  It’s also been a wonderful opportunity to model respect and grace to Christians who may choose something entirely different than us.  Knowing how to navigate differences of opinion inside our faith community is a skill I am passionate about teaching my children.  We also try to take this year by year, leaving room for some changes to our tradition if needed.  For example, one friend shared with me how they had not previously celebrated Halloween but she felt that this year they had a unique opportunity to reach out to many of their neighbours by taking their children trick or treating door to door in their new neighbourhood.  We’ve also had years where, as a foster family, we have other people’s children in our home for Halloween.  As temporary guardians, we don’t have the right nor would it be helpful to cause unnecessary offense or animosity inside already complicated relationships.  Sometimes there may be church activities or neighbourhood parties you feel comfortable joining while other years there may not be.  Be willing to model wisdom to your children by making thoughtful, well informed decisions on a case by case basis.

  5. Be confident in your decision and share it freely.  

    If you’ve decided not to trick or treat with your family, like we have, don’t be afraid to say that.  Be prepared to share in clear and simple language, with a smile on your face, what you’ve decided and why.  It doesn’t have to be judgy.  It doesn’t have to be bashful.  It doesn’t have to be complicated.  If you know why you’re doing what you’re doing, you don’t need to feel intimidated.  If they want to know more, they will ask.  Otherwise, keep it light and don’t share more information than they want to hear.  Encourage your children to do the same.  Give them simple, clear language they can use with curious friends, neighbours, teachers, store clerks, etc.  They will pick up on your attitudes quickly.  If you are hesitant to talk about it or fumble over answers, they will do the same.

  6. To follow that up, make it easy for your kids. 

    Yes, I said easy.  One of the reasons we’ve chosen to celebrate in this particular way is to give our kids the opportunity to practise standing for something they believe in that goes against the cultural norm.  However, I’ve learned that it’s important to choose these opportunities wisely with age appropriate expectations in mind and to offer plenty of grace for your children.  They are only kids and Halloween is a hot topic among children.  If you are going to make rules about what they can and can’t do make sure you are accommodating them as much as possible.  For example, I wrote a brief note to my child’s teacher this year briefly explaining that we don’t celebrate Halloween and asking if my daughter could be accommodated in the classroom with fall/non-spooky activities this week.  When my kids described an optional second grade class haunted house activity happening at nutrition break I encouraged them to make their own decision about what they felt was appropriate.  I chose not to take my boys to the library story hour this week since it was going to be Halloween themed and they didn’t have costumes.  When my daughter hid behind me, embarrassed, when the cashier asked about her Halloween costume, I cheerfully explained that we don’t celebrate so she wouldn’t have to.  We don’t trick or treat but I still buy a wack of candy and we have a fun family night instead.  I’m not trying to make it hard, and I’m happy to take the blame if they are not ready to try to stand up for my decisions to their friends, teachers, etc.  I’m the parent, not them.  Make it as easy as possible for them to do what you’ve required without more humiliation or struggle than necessary.  This will set them up to be more likely to make their own hard decisions in the future.

While I’m writing this my daughters have come home from school.  One of my daughters has told me about the second grade haunted house she decided to attend.

“It wasn’t actually scary, it was just little kids, ” she says to me.  I nod and smile, accepting her choice with no judgment.  She carries on, talking about the pumpkin she carved and the conversation she had on the bus with her friend.

“We don’t celebrate Halloween.  We just stay home and eat candy,” she told him.

She tells me she was surprised when he said, “I wish I could do that tonight because it’s going to be wet!”

We laugh together and she explains that he is dressing up as one of the Star Wars characters.  I let her chatter about what she would dress up as if she were going trick or treating tonight.

Then we talk about what movie we will watch.

My other daughter comes home and tells me about what her art teacher told them.  She’s wondering if I have a picture of her deceased grandfather.

“I know it’s not really true,” she says, a little embarrassed as she explains how you can tie a string to a rock or jewel and hold it above the picture.

“If it swings this way then it means the person is alive or something and if it swings this way it doesn’t…she said there was a person in her family who died in a war…”  I wait patiently, letting her finish the story.  She is curious and I can tell she thinks it would be fun to try.

I remind myself she is a kid and not an emerging Wiccan.

I explain briefly in simple language what the ritual is about and why it’s not a good idea for her to try, despite it sounding like a fun little activity.  Then we talk about the truth of the gospel.

How her grandfather loved Jesus and was saved.

How we can know exactly where he is and that he’s safe.

How the Bible tells us the truth about life and death.

Yes, Halloween is complicated and as Christian parents sometimes it would feel easier to disengage from the conversations that it inevitably initiates.

But I truly believe we miss out.

We miss out on opportunities to breathe life, truth and grace into the lives of those around us, including our children.

We don’t need to be afraid.

We don’t need to be embarrassed.

So tonight, whether you are out in the cold engaging with other trick or treaters in your neighbourhood, handing out candy to costumed children, helping out with a church party or sacked out on the couch watching a movie and eating Snickers,

I hope you experience freedom, truth and the transforming power of the gospel.

Because that is for every day of your life.

Including October 31.

~AF

 

 

 

 

 

 

10 Books of the Summer

I made a goal this summer for my children and I to read more and watch less.  Surprisingly, it worked!  I thoroughly enjoyed having the screen on less and spending more quality time with my children reading together.  It was also amazing how often I watched them pick up books when they realized the screen was not an option.  Even my toddlers pored over story books this summer after I starting setting them out in appealing, accessible ways.  I constantly had books all over the couch and floor, but that is a problem I can deal with 🙂  Here is the list of books that blessed me this summer, just in case you might want to take a peak at a few of them!

1. The Read-Aloud Family by Sarah Mackenzie

I read this book at the beginning of the summer, soon after making the goal to read more, and it both inspired and empowered me to strive to become a reading family.  Sarah Mackenzie is passionate about literature, family and Jesus and she takes those three things and binds them into one in this practical, thought provoking book.  This summer we became a “read aloud family,” and it changed our home atmosphere in subtle but beautiful ways.  For anyone who, like me, spent their adolescent years buried in books, this book will reawaken the magic of stories and encourage you to give your kids the world through books.  If you want some extra food for thought and an introduction to reading aloud, listen to Sarah’s podcast called The Read Aloud Revival.

2. Raising Grateful Kids in an Entitled World by Kristen Welch

This summer was a challenging one for me, with five children of varying ages and stages at home kept me busier and more overwhelmed than I’ve ever been.  However, this book shifted my perspective from one of stress and fear to one of gratitude and renewed peace in the middle of my busy days.  Practical, authentic, encouraging and full of grace, this book taught me as much about my own issues with entitlement as about raising grateful kids.  Kristen Welch speaks from real life experience and tells her own stories to help teach with humor, humility and kindness.  This gratitude in a world of more, this contentment in a sea of excess…I want this for my kids.  Especially geared toward middle school to teenagers, this book is full of tips with the heart of the gospel at its core.

3. Triggers by Amber Lia and Wendy Speake

This is my humble confession that I am an angry mom.  I am strong willed, passionate and impulsive, and too often that spills out onto my children in negative ways.  I read Triggers because I desperately needed my heart to realign with the grace-filled, gentle and calm way that God fathers me.   Triggers is both practical and spiritually grounded, giving helpful tips for reactive moms that will help you tonight at five o’clock and will bring your heart into line with God’s desires.  I found it challenging, encouraging and refreshingly easy to read.  Divided into short, engaging chapters titled specifically, you can use this as a devotional, quick look up reference or pleasure read.  If you have ever felt angry at your children, this book will help you work through the guilt and pain of those feelings and your circumstances towards peace, forgiveness and unity in your home.

4. Raising World Changers in a Changing World by Kristen Welch

After reading Raising Grateful Kids in an Entitled World, I leapt on the chance to read this similarly themed book by Kristen Welch.  When I watch my daughters grow and interact with their friends, I dream of the world changers they can be for Christ’s Kingdom.  Whether it’s in their homes around a weathered kitchen table, across the ocean or down the street at a friend’s, I want my kids to become a part of changing the world for Christ.  The subtitle of this book is: How one family discovered the beauty of sacrifice and the joy of giving.  That sums up the essence of this hope filled book compiled of stories of Kristen’s family and acquaintances who are truly changing the world.  I loved the interview style conversations with her children Kristen included at the end of each chapter and the personal stories she shared.  You can become a world changer, and this book will inspire you to see the place and space you are in right now as one where God can use you for His glory.

5. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis

As I dove into reading aloud this summer with my girls, especially, this book kept niggling away at the back of my mind.  My grade four teacher read aloud a multitude of exceptional books to her pupils, many of which are still favourites of mine today.  This was my first introduction to C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia.  I have been waiting for just the right moment to introduce this series to my girls, and finally a few weeks ago at the tail end of the summer I couldn’t resist any longer.  I wasn’t sure if they were quite prepared or not, but I decided to give it a try and I’m so glad I did.  My very energetic, impulsive and concrete minded nine year old sat curled up beside me, wide eyes glued to my face through each rollicking, vivid chapter of adventure and drama.  Many of the breath-taking metaphors to our spiritual reality brought tears to my own eyes as we pored over each page together.  My soul ached with pain and understanding for Edmund’s self absorbed choices, leapt with joy for each victory over the White Witch and grieved at the cost of betrayal.  It was awe inspiring to be introduced to the mighty Aslan and charming to enter the magical world of Narnia through the wardrobe where good and evil are painted in stunning clarity.  When we turned the last page and found the children back in the real world, I marvelled all over again that this fantasy tale had brought to my children’s hearts the gospel, and lead my own heart to worship.  I enjoyed this book just as much today as I did as an enchanted ten year old and all the times in between.

6. Kisses from Katie by Katie Davis

I had heard so much about this young woman’s memoir, but hadn’t gotten around to reading it until this summer.  From the very first chapter I was hooked.  God brought this book into my hands at the perfect time and lent me refreshing perspective to my days.  Katie Davis’ story is one of an ordinary girl who chose to say yes to an extraordinary God, and the product is overflowing with love, beauty and the glory of our Abba Father.  Through Katie’s eyes, her remarkable journey of surrender is not radical, but expected, in light of the gospel.  I could not put this book down til the very last page, and a few weeks later it’s story is still churning through my mind challenging my motives, my actions and my status quo.  We need more Katies in the world and I am so thankful she chose to share her story.

7. Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White

While this was not the first time we read aloud this delightful classic, it’s a tale that never disappoints.  Light, inquisitive, thoughtful and humorous, I am quite convinced that Charlotte’s Web will continue to capture the hearts of readers for years to come.  I love the way the story unfolds in gentle detail, taking the time to help even young readers or listeners to develop affection for each character.  The story celebrates friendship, kindness, loyalty and compassion while letting children immerse themselves in the perspective of ordinary farm animals.  If you have never taken the time to digest this gem, know that it is never too late to fall in love with a pig, a spider and a miracle.  Equally delightful is the 2006 movie version starring Dakota Fanning and Julia Roberts.

8. Give Them Grace by Elyse M. Fitzpatrick and Jessica Thompson

This book was a paradigm shift for me, helping me peel back the layers of my own motivations for teaching good things to my kids and helping me understand my own tendencies toward law-based behaviour modification.  I didn’t expect this book to make this list of my ‘favourite books’ as it is a bit of a heavy read and was a bit of work to slog through but it challenged me to rethink some of my habitual responses in parenting so I decided it had earned its place.  I feel like I’ve been on a journey of rediscovering what grace means in my own spiritual life, and putting grace into practise in my parenting has helped me to identify the areas I struggle to fully embrace and believe these things personally.

9. Bridge To Terabithia by Katherine Patterson

This was another elementary school favourite of mine and this summer I finally got around to reading it to my girls.  This children’s book weaves childhood themes such as friendship, fantasy and innocence with deeper undercurrents of grief, shame and poverty.  For young Jess Aarons, life is predictably gloomy, disappointing and demanding until a new family moves in next door.  Leslie Burke will change his world forever, and the tale will nestle its way into your own heart as well.  This story enchanted me as a fourth grader 18 years ago and I enjoyed it just as much this time around with my girls.

10. Carly’s Voice by Arthur Fleischmann and Carly Fleischmann

Another foster mom lent me this book to read when she heard we were caring for a child on the autism spectrum.  It took me awhile to pick up and dive into but about halfway through it grabbed my attention and I couldn’t put it down.  Written cooperatively by father and daughter, Carly’s Voice is the true story of an autistic young woman who inspired and challenged the world around her to think more deeply and creatively about individuals on the spectrum.  Their capabilities, their intelligence and the ways that we view them.  I guarantee once you have met Carly you will not forget her!  Sassy, smart and sensitive, she set out to change the way the world saw her and others like her…and succeeded.  Carly will challenge the way you define normal, the systems we live by and the ways we define success.  Her story makes it clear that lack of verbal skills in a person on the spectrum should not be equated with limited mental, social or emotional intelligence.  Through typing, Carly takes the opportunity to free herself from her own space of isolation and help those closest to her understand her inner world.