Last year on Halloween night, over eight hundred trick-or-treaters showed up to our house on Sleepy Hollow for candy. Even though we lived on Sleepy Hollow, we had no idea when we moved in four years ago that Halloween was such a massive holiday in our neighborhood.
It put us in an awkward position as Christians. We weren’t excited about joining the neighborhood legacy of boasting in violence or in darkness or in evil. But we also really didn’t want to be the type that draws their curtains in fear and disgust at the end of October. We wanted our neighbors to know we cared about them whatever day of the month or year it was. Eventually, our family decided we were going to engage our neighbors on Halloween with radical generosity.
And so, for the past three years, we have exclusively given out king-sized candy bars to every visitor. The first year we gave away three hundred. Last year, eight hundred. We’re stocking up as we speak and expecting a thousand people this year.
Now, your family may not be financially able to give out a thousand candy bars (the college students we work with through our church help fund our inventory), and you likely won’t have a thousand people knocking on your door this Halloween. That doesn’t mean you can’t create a culture of radical generosity right where you are with what you have.
Generosity as a Parable
Halloween is one opportunity (among many) to surprise our neighbors with the generosity of God.
“One night a year the mission field actually knocks on our front door.”
I say generosity “of God” because our giving functions as a parable. In handing out the best candy or the most candy, in creating a welcoming home for trick-or-treaters, in surprising our neighbors with kindness, we are telling them about the character of God. He too is generous. He too is welcoming. He too is kind. Our simple, generous acts of love are yard signs pointing to our God.
This is why Jesus says, “In the same way, let your light shine before others” — the light on your front porch, the candy you give out, the conversations you have on your front stoop — “so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). When we sequester ourselves, we may say something clear and definitive about Halloween, but we also lose our chance to tell the story of God’s love through our love for others.
Engagement Is Not Endorsement
There will inevitably be Christians who read this with concern. Isn’t participation in Halloween tantamount to celebrating wordliness or worse? It’s a valid question. After all, almost everything about this holiday — from its origin to the common ways our society celebrates it — is dark, to say the least. We often, however, mistakenly confuse engagement, or in this case even participation, with endorsement. It’s true we have a biblical mandate to move away from the values of our culture when they are at odds with the gospel, but we also have a mandate to move toward our culture with the hope of the gospel.
Jesus himself was often accused of endorsing the sin from which he came to free people. “The Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, ‘This man receives sinners and eats with them’” (Luke 15:2). Truthfully it’s much easier to be a hermit than a herald. The more difficult road requiring more thought, intentionality, and sacrifice is often the more fruitful road for Christians. In fact, if our living on mission — our intentions and moral convictions — are under scrutiny because of our engagement of the lost, we might be doing something right.
Thinking Like a Missionary
My wife Kelly has a helpful analogy to help us see Halloween as an opportunity, not an obstacle.
For a moment, let’s imagine you are a missionary in a foreign country. You just moved in and are getting a feel for the culture and daily life of the inhabitants. Very few know about Jesus, and ancestral worship is the most common religious practice. You’ve been praying about opportunities to connect with the people and share about Jesus. Then, you hear about a large ancestral worship festival in which all of the city will be out. If you will only turn on your porch light, they will come to your door to exchange small gifts. Wouldn’t you thank God for an opportunity to meet so many of the dead people you want to reach? To expose them (even for just a few moments) to the hope you have in Jesus?
Of course you would. And that is exactly what happens every year at the end of October. One night a year the mission field actually knocks on our front door. How will we respond? With a lit-up house, the best candy on the block, and the name of Jesus on our lips.
“Let the light on your porch so shine this Halloween that they may see your good works and give glory to your God.”
Back at our house, as trick-or-treaters arrive at our front steps (we live on a hill top), they are met with a sign: “If you make the climb, there’s king-sized candy bars, cause there’s not a King as generous as ours.” The college students from our church greet people down front, getting prayer requests and texting them up to people inside who lead our prayer room. On the way back down, gigantic Snickers bars in hand, visitors see another sign in the yard: “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).
Consider October 31st an opportunity. On a night known for darkness, we can shine the light of the gospel into our neighborhoods. In a culture known for taking, we can surprise our community with how much we love to give. Let’s not be found with the shades drawn on the night the harvest field comes to us.