The Right Amount of Halloween Fright

Halloween Memories

Halloween can be a great time of year for preschoolers, but sometimes it can be scary, too. Here are some ways to keep the celebration fun for all from Faithful Beginnings contributor Josie Ortega.

Halloween Priorities

At the moment, two of my kids are at preschool, the other is in first grade, and I’m eating two of our mini-Hershey bars (only two!) from the Halloween candy stash that we stocked up on at Target this weekend. My oldest daughter discovered candy wrappers in the trash yesterday and demanded to know the culprit’s identity. A witch hunt of sorts. 

As with all the hoopla and activities and traditions surrounding every holiday, now that I have kids—and therefore limited time, energy, and patience—I’m reevaluating and asking myself: What is all this about? Why are we doing all this stuff? Why am I hiding these candy wrappers??

Don’t worry: I love holidays and family traditions, so I’m not going to recommend eliminating Halloween. (After all, an anti-holiday really becomes another holiday in itself, and that can become your unique tradition! Breakfast for Christmas dinner, anyone? So if you decide to eschew Halloween for a fall harvest festival: go for it. It’s up to you!)

I do think it’s wise, though, to think through things and figure out our priorities. Now that my husband and I have our own kids, it’s our turn to figure out how much to engage in the scary stuff, or not; how to explain it to children; what to embrace, what to ignore. And how does being people of faith influence our answers to these questions?  

votive candles all saints dayHalloween and All Saints Day

“Hallowe’en” began as All Hallows Eve, the night before All Saints Day.  Of course, all the saints being remembered on that day were . . . dead people. [More on All Saints Day, as well as developing a healthier response to death and dying, in the next post.]

Because Christians see death as the beginning of a new life, many Halloween traditions emerged out of a sense of laughing at death and at the devil. Jesus died and rose again, conquering death and evil once and for all. We don’t need to fear death anymore, and in fact, can have a good time with it. 

Of course, we’re not yet there in that new life with no more suffering, hunger, or crying. Death and sickness are still painful and deeply sad. Halloween, then, presents a good opportunity to practice living in the tension between recognizing the real sadness of death, as well as its ultimate powerlessness.

Healthy Response to Halloween

OK, but what about gross goblins and creepy corpses and violently beheaded yard decorations?

This move toward the extremely gruesome, I think, points to our culture’s failure to deal with death and suffering in a meaningful, healthy way. I’m not into the gruesome stuff, but it’s there in our neighborhood, so it’s worth thinking about how to handle it with kids.

And still, I don’t want to abstain from Halloween altogether, or even from all the scary death imagery. While we don’t want to glorify evil, I’m all for fairy tales and imagination—including the bad guys. My three-year-old son is into dragons right now, and I love the quote attributed to G.K. Chesterton: 

GK Chesterton PrintFairy tales are more than true, not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.

Chesterton says that children already know there’s bad stuff and bad guys; they don’t need protection from that knowledge. But they do need to know there’s a stronger power that can defeat the bad guys. 

So here’s the concept that forms the basis of my thinking on the frightening parts of Halloween: Dragons are scary; dragons can be slain! (In other words, the dragons are not the end of the story.)

As we’re working on seasonal decorations, activities, and checking out books from the library, I’m keeping in mind the dragon-slaying concept, as well as these other ways to demonstrate the motif that Life Conquers Death:

Look to the natural world. 

Leaves are falling, trees are becoming dormant. They appear dead . . . but are they truly dead?  Jesus used the same metaphor when he said, “unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”

The book Pumpkin Jack, which follows the life cycle of a boy’s jack-o-lantern, reflects this theme nicely. 

Light shines in the darkness. 

As autumn progresses into winter, at least in our part of the world, it’s getting darker and colder outside. Enjoying candles and bonfires is a beautiful sensory reminder that Jesus is the light of the world, brighter than darkness, brighter than death. 

In practice, here’s what we’ve got going on in our house this year.

Halloween Resources

Halloween photo Josie Ortega

Josie and her husband, Izzy, in Halloween costumes before kids.

Halloween decorations:

  • Pumpkins
  • Weirdly wonderful lime green osage oranges (AKA monkey brains)
  • The wicked witch of the east’s legs smushed under our house, 
  • Plenty of candles
  • Pictures of Halloweens past, including my husband and I, pre-kids, dressed up in footie pajamas, drinking adult beverages from our sippy cups. 

Halloween artHalloween art:

  • We’ve got monsters of our own invention
  • creepy crawly preschool crafts
  • a sign with a line from a song my kids love (which, whether or not they know it, is originally from the Bible): Oh Death, Where Is Thy Sting?

Halloween books:

Halloween Fun for All

Depending on the ages of your children, talking overtly about these life and death themes may or may not be necessary. I’d advise keeping it simple. The process alone of thinking through what we’re doing and why, will go a long way to set you up for a fun, and even meaningful, Halloween. 

And Halloween is fun! Costumes: fun. Candy: really fun. Getting out in the neighborhood and connecting with neighbors: fun, and so worthwhile.

But let’s not pretend that a big part of the fun isn’t allowing ourselves to be spooked in a controlled way. Think of it like a playground serving as a place for kids to climb and jump and take risks in a limited, relatively safe environment. 

As parents, we’re not going for complete control, but for a space that’s purposeful, free within boundaries, and that offers just the right amount of danger that kids need to test their limits and grow in confidence. 

So enjoy it! Face the spooky-ness as much as you’re comfortable, and practice facing death with confidence this Halloween.

And be sure to share photos of your Halloween costumes, foods, and other fun on FamilyApp!

All Saints DaycandydeathHalloweenholidaystraditions

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