“I don’t want to ride my bike anymore,” my 8-year-old daughter blurted out as she rushed into the house and slammed the front door. “The neighbors have their Halloween decorations out. It scares me to ride past their house.”
I looked out the front window and saw a scarecrow with a death mask perched on a hay bale beside the neighbor’s front door. Beneath the tree in his front yard, a pop-up graveyard of styrofoam stones and skeletal hands reached out of the grass. In a moment, I remembered all of the reasons I’ve come to dislike this holiday.
This year marks our second Halloween since my husband died, and my children and I don’t find Halloween decor funny anymore. Cemeteries don’t mean spooky in our house; they mean sorrow. Puns about death fall flat. Over the last year, our family has struggled to navigate a death-averse society, and death-obsessed Halloween feels painfully insensitive. Instinctually, I want to opt out.
Avoiding conversations about our mortality actually makes it harder to face our ends with confidence and grace.
But if there’s anything I’ve learned from our family’s experience with grief, it’s that running away from death and dying doesn’t fix anything. Avoiding conversations about our mortality actually makes it harder to face our end with confidence and grace. While Halloween has largely been overtaken by inflatable witches and gory masks, the holiday’s roots in Christian belief and practice offer easy opportunities to engage my children in conversations about death and grief and Christian hope. So, while everything in me wants to ditch Halloween in favor of more innocuous harvest parties and trunk-or-treats, I’m choosing to creatively opt in.
Consider four ways our family––and yours––can celebrate a more hallowed Halloween this year.
1. Visit a local cemetery.
Skip the styrofoam cutouts and take your children to a real cemetery. If you have a loved one buried locally, visit his or her grave. Bring flowers or allow your child to collect leaves to lay respectfully at a grave site.
As you walk among the stones, talk about death with your children in age-appropriate ways. Retell the familiar Genesis story of the snake in the garden, and wonder aloud together why many cemeteries are landscaped like gardens. Remind your children of Jesus’s death on our behalf. Cemeteries need not feel creepy, since God can mercifully remove our fear of death.
2. Enjoy your sweets.
Whether you buy a giant bag of chocolates from the grocery store or make caramel apples as a family, contrast the seriousness of mortality with the joy of holiday treats savored together. Joy and sorrow, celebration and grief––this is the essence of the Christian life as we long for our promised full redemption.
Don’t miss the opportunity this season to talk with your children about the sweetness of our hope in Christ that persists even in sorrow. For believers, a discussion of death and grief isn’t complete until we’ve tasted and seen that the Lord is good. In Jesus we discover joy beyond measure, even as we wait for all to be made new.
3. Celebrate the great cloud of witnesses.
Skip the ghosts made of sheets and toilet paper, and celebrate some real unseen heroes of the faith this Halloween. Halloween finds its sacred roots in All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day, two church days traditionally set aside for remembering the church triumphant.
Instead of ghost stories at the fireside, as a family discover stories of Christian saints, both ancient and modern. Read together about Augustine and Amy Carmichael, John Calvin and Fanny Crosby. Create a family tree that illustrates your own heritage of faith. Remind your children that all who have died in faith cheer us on as we live faithfully for Jesus until he returns.
4. Write a card or letter to someone who’s grieving.
We can dress up in quirky costumes and paint our faces at Halloween, but there’s no way to disguise the sadness of death. Death isn’t ever funny, and holidays can be hard for those who have lost loved ones.
Encourage your child to draw a picture or to write a card or letter to someone in your church who is bereaved. Halloween might seem like an unusual holiday to send your condolences, but grieving people appreciate being remembered no matter the time of year.
Because of Jesus’s finished work, we know that the power of death is broken. But here we still weep. Help your children to understand that grief is a normal part of loving and losing someone. Remind them of God’s promise that someday, someday soon, tears will be wiped away.