Originally published in The Telegraph
Christians traditionally have an uneasy relationship with Halloween, but many of them are increasingly embracing the event by holding parties designed to add a religious significance to the festival.
Organisers say they are increasingly also attracting non-Christian children whose parents don’t want to let them go trick-or-treating because of “stranger danger”.
Paul Stockwell, of the Scripture Union, which has been sending out its “Light Party Packs” for four years, said he believes increasing interest is partly down to non-Christian parents who are worried about the more mainstream Halloween tradition of trick-or-treating.
“They like the fact that it’s in a safe environment instead of their children wandering the streets,” he said.
When the packs were first launched four years ago the charity sent out around 4 000. Now this has doubled, and they expect to send out 8 000 this year.
The packs include ideas for light experiments, games, a service plan and Bible-based activities.
In an introduction to the pack Rich Powney, of the Evanglical Alliance, said the parties were designed to ensure that “on this night, of all nights, people are attracted to the light and away from the darkness.”
Many Christians have previously ignored Halloween altogether, believing it to be a celebration which goes against their faith.
But now churches are encouraging practices which add religious elements to the festival.
Christians are encouraged to carve pumpkins with “positive” symbols, like crosses and hearts, instead of the traditional scary faces.
Christian children’s charity World Vision has even created a God-friendly Halloween character, Patch the Pumpkin a pumpkin with a heart which shines out light.
Many Christians also cite the religious origin of Halloween as All Hallows Eve, the day before All Hallows Day, also known as All Saints’ Day, the day when some Christians celebrate the entire Church.
Lucy Davis, vicar of Flitwick, Bedfordshire, is running the church’s first Halloween event this year. “The reason for doing that is that Halloween has become such a big secular thing, and people feel pressured into doing something,” she said.
She expects many of those who come not to be regular churchgoers, as many local parents have “mixed feelings” about trick-or-treating because of safety concerns.
“As a society we’re quite fearful for our children. It sends mixed messages for our kids – you’re saying normally it’s not OK to knock on strangers doors, except for on this one night. Parents do feel a little bit conflicted about that,” she said.
Senior church figures have also backed the change in focus to embrace the controversial festival.
The Rt Rev Julian Henderson, Bishop of Blackburn, has endorsed a Christian Halloween chocolate which alongside chocolate buttons offers “a quiz, maze, word game, a call to buy Fairtrade, a prayer suggestion, a national competition with a prize, and a challenge to treat someone less well off by donating to a children’s charity”.
He said the pack, produced by the Meaningful Chocolate Company, offered “an alternative to the increasingly common Hallowe’en attempts to scare and frighten”.
Christians are being encouraged to hand it to families who come trick-or-treating.
Martyn Saunders, the vicar at St Philip & St James Church, Chatham, where demand for their alternative party has grown for the past three years, said churches wanted to offer “a positive alternative to Halloween”.
“Churches vary as to whether they are happy to take anyone in whatever costume they’re in – we are more than happy to take anyone who comes through the door.
“People who are passing by come as long as they want to, play games, drink hot chocolate, and have fun, as opposed to being out on the streets trick-or-treating,” he said.
“Demand does increase, but it increases as the reputation in the community grows that what we’re offering is fun without being too pushy,” he added.