Is Halloween “more Christian” than Christmas? I’m sure this is a question you’ve been asking yourself. Well, my answer is, “Quite possibly yes.”
Why? Is it because the run-up is shorter and less exhausting? Or because we spend less on Halloween than Christmas (although plenty is spent on the former too)? Or because Halloween acknowledges the shadow side of us all while for Christmas we labor so darn hard to be full of joy and good cheer (which we really can’t pull off for very long)?
For the last four days I enjoyed the exhausting privilege of taking care of two grandchildren while their parents were on a trip (Linda, normally the lead on such operations, was laid up with a bad knee). I was watching a Christmas-themed kids show with my six-year-old granddaughter Cora. In the show, Santa Claus was a pretty up-tight dude who kept insisting that no one gets Christmas presents unless they “deserve” them.
You know the song: “He’s making his list, He’s checking it twice/ Gonna find out who’s been naughty or nice.” In other words, Christmas gets turned into a rewards/ punishment deal with Santa as the judge/ enforcer.
Halloween, it strikes me, is more about grace. Everybody gets treats, candy for everyone! You don’t have to present your moral balance sheet. Halloween, in religious history, refers to the eve of All Hallows or All Saints Day, leading up to All Souls Day.
In fact, you can show up in a costume that gives full rein to your dark and crazy side. Eleven-year-old Colin, who is smart and helpful, would don his Halloween costume each evening to prowl around a bit and give his shadow side some room and relief. His costume is absolutely hideous — all fangs and warts and dripping blood. But he’ll get candy too. You can show up as witchy or monster-like as you sometimes feel — and people give you a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup. That’s grace! None of the “naughty or nice” stuff. Candy for everyone, saints and sinners alike.
In our current webinar on “Grace in Practice” we are reading and discussing Paul Zahl’s book of the same title. Zahl is telling us, “There are two governing principles that are at war with one another. The first is law; the second is grace. So powerful are these two principles, so virile and unquenchable, so captivating and irresistible, that all relationships, all human operations, simply lie down before them. The law crushes the human spirit; grace lifts it.”
“Law” as Zahl is using it here is what we’ve done to Christmas with a Santa who demands that those receiving gifts deserve them. Otherwise, a lump of coal for you, you little creep! How many parents and grandparents have dragged this judge-y Santa into the fray, declaring to a misbehaving child, “Watch out, Santa may not bring you anything!!”
No one says that about Halloween. Go out dressed like a blood-sucking vampire or a soul-stealing zombie and . . . they give you M&Ms. How great is that? How grace-filled and Christian is that?
Of course, I am talking about Christmas as it has been repackaged, not about the real Christmas. The real Christmas is all about grace. God’s gift of himself, “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us,” not because we were really good and deserving, but because we were really desperate.
That was, however, way too much for us, so we turned Christmas into something that we could be in charge of.
These days a fair number of uptight clergy and churches are down on Halloween. Devil and all that. Me? I’m up with Halloween. Give room for the dark side! Be the monster you sometimes, secretly, are. Candy for all! Reese’s for the grumps! Baby Ruths for the blood-suckers! Caramel-covered apples for the fanged vampires!