What Can Christians Do With Halloween?
Is it a glorification of evil? or a chance to learn about courage in the face of darkness?
Op-Ed by David Coppedge
As sunset begins in the west, the darkness will bring out costumed little monsters seeking treats at the door. This year, I had an excuse to get out of it: I posted “Quarantine: No Treats This Year. Try Again in 2021.” Maybe it was an excuse to avoid viruses. Maybe it was a trick to keep all the candy for myself. Or, maybe you can consider it my good deed this Halloween to prevent tooth decay in children.
When I was younger (a long time ago), Halloween just seemed like innocent fun: scary images in the dark, spooky stories, haunted houses, and a chance to get a bagful of candy. Back then, nobody took ghosts seriously, and the idea of witches on broomsticks and demons with pitchforks and horns seemed as silly as the characters in the Wizard of Oz. But even then, there was too much blood, too much senseless danger, too much useless fright.
As I got older, I grew more and more disgusted with Halloween. The 1970s brought news stories about real Satan worshipers and real witch covens. We watched senseless crime grow, with real blood spilling from real people. We learned about criminals passing out poisoned candy or apples with razor blades in them. It wasn’t funny any more.
Some Christians have turned to celebrating October 31 as Reformation Day: a time to remember the Reformers and martyrs who suffered and died for holding up the light of the Word of God. That is a great idea. It has not caught on in the culture, however, and is unlikely to any time soon. Many young people have never heard of Martin Luther or the 95 Theses. Even Martin Luther King Jr. is fading from cultural memory. We live in a culture that continues to see October 31 as Halloween. Stores are filled with Halloween decorations, costumes and candy. Your children don’t want to be left out of the parties and fun with their friends, even if they should.
I still hand out securely-wrapped candy at the door to the little kids and congratulate those with the best costumes: the little princess, the spider-man boy. I try to make friendships with the parents and wish them well. To the extent this is a way to help children face their fears and make friends, that’s fine. But as I walk down the block looking at Halloween decorations, I find many of them disgusting: skeleton hands clawing their way out of the ground, decapitated heads, superstitious images of black cats and ghosts on tombstones. They remind me now of real victims of violent crime. What used to be mythical is now real: people being beheaded, shot, tortured and buried in mass graves. We heard with horror this week about an elderly lady in Nice, France, beheaded in church by a terrorist. Celebrating fear and terror after that seems in extremely poor taste.
Facing the Darkness
And yet darkness, fear, evil and danger are very real in our world. They must be faced. Look at this video I took on a remote overlook in Arizona in 2018. This is real. I was there alone, watching and filming this scene. Is it spooky? In a way, yes; you see growing darkness, danger of falling off cliffs, and the uncertainty of mists hiding the view. To me, though, it was a magnificent nightfall. I rejoiced in it. And as long as I was careful, there was nothing to fear. There are people who would be terrified of conditions like this. We can learn to face danger, know the risks, and prepare for them.
Stripped of its gore and demons, Halloween can remind us to be courageous. We all must face dangers and darkness at times. We can be reminded that God is with us even in the valley of the shadow of death. We can grow in boldness and courage when the darkness comes our way. God’s word can be a light to our path. The light of His promises can shine in our hearts when all is dark outside.
Halloween can also remind us that God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all. We can use October 31 as a chance to share the glorious light of the gospel. And we can work to overcome darkness with light. Turn what Satan means for evil into an opportunity for good.
So yes; tell scary stories, but tell true stories that show courage overcoming danger. Take walks in the dark, but carry a flashlight of spiritual truth as well as a physical flashlight. Teach the young how to understand risks, conquer their fears and learn preparedness for danger. And use that bag of candy to teach about moderation and self-control.
My father used to take young people on “bravery training” hikes in the dark. Below is a true story recounted by one of those boys who grew up to be a Naval officer, a leader of men on a nuclear submarine, a patriarch of his family and a prominent leader of re-enactors who keep alive the wonderful memory of the Buffalo Soldiers. I’m sure you will enjoy his retelling of how he overcame his fear of the dark when my father coaxed him to try, and congratulated him when he did. It had a lot to do with his success later in life. This is one way to shed light on dark Halloween.
I recently had a conversation with Dave Coppedge and he asked me if I would be willing to share my experience in the Rangers and Christian Commandos. I was in the organization back in the 50’s and 60’s, from the 4th grade to the 12th grade.
I overcame many childhood fears in the Commandos. I’d like to share the time when I overcame my fear of “The Dark.” First, you have to understand that at the age of 8 or 9 years old, I had a paralyzing fear of “The Dark.” My mother was a nurse and she worked the night shift at Olive View Hospital. After she would leave at night to go to work, I would get up and watch the Steve Allen Show. In those days there was only one TV in the house, and it was in the Living Room. I’d watch the TV in the dark. When the show was over and I was ready to go to bed… remember, TV stations stopped broadcasting at midnight. …anyway, when the show was over, I would turn on the Living Room light and turn off the TV. Next I would turn on the Dining Room light and turn off the Living Room light. Then I would go down the Hallway to the Bathroom and turn on the Bathroom light, and go back and turn off the Dining Room light. Next, I’d go to the end of the Hallway and turn on the Hall light and then turn off the Bathroom light. Now I’m at my bedroom door. I’d turn on the bedroom light and turn off the Hall light. This is the tricky part and I know you won’t believe me. I would go over to my bed and pull back the covers. Then I would go back to the light switch, turn off the bedroom light, and I would be under the covers before the room got dark. I TOLD YOU I WAS AFRAID OF THE DARK!
Back to the night I overcame my fear of “The Dark.” Chaplain had picked us up in the old green bus with no seats. I don’t think he had gotten the new bus yet. Anyway, Chaplain told us that we were going to “Terrible Tunnel.” I was kind of new to the organization, having been recruited by a friend of mine. I had never been to “Terrible Tunnel.” We drove up into the Angeles Nation Forest and Chaplain turned off the bus lights and parked off on the side of the road somewhere. There were always one or two Rangers who assisted Chaplain at Commando meetings. Chaplain took us all down the side of a hill that seemed like a mountain, IN THE DARK! We came to a dry river bed. Chaplain gave some instructions to the Rangers, then he left us. It was dark, I was scared, but I didn’t want anyone to know how scared I was. After a little while, Chaplain returned and we started down the river bed towards a real mountain. After going through bushes and trees we came to a clearing and there it was, “Terrible Tunnel.” Bigger, Scarier and Darker than anything I could have imagined. I was horrified. Do you remember those old Black and White SiFi movies of the 50’s where the Aliens hideout in caves? Well that’s what “Terrible Tunnel” looked like, only worse, in all the worse ways.
There we stood, two Rangers, a small group of Commandos and Chaplain. Chaplain explained the rules. Whoever went through “Terrible Tunnel” would have to walk, you couldn’t run. You would have to go through the tunnel as quietly as possible, NO NOISE! When you got to the other end of the tunnel, you were suppose to step outside, look around and return as quietly as you were on the first pass, and then tell Chaplain what you saw. Then you had to Salome Suwanee [a kind of promise of secrecy] not to divulge, to anyone, what you had seen.
Chaplain started with the most senior members: Would you like to go through “Terrible Tunnel?” The first Ranger said, No Sir! Then he went to the second Ranger, and the Ranger said, No Sir! Chaplain expressed a little disappointment in the two Rangers. I couldn’t see his face clearly in the dark, but he sounded disappointed. Then he turned to the Commandos. I think we had a Sergeant, a few Corporals, some PFC’s and me, a Private. Chaplain slowly worked his way through the ranks. No Sir, No Sir, No Sir, was repeated time after time. Now Chaplain was really sounding disappointed in our group… but after all, we’re just a bunch of scared kids brought up into the mountains at night, in “The Dark”… what did he expect? Then it was my turn. “Private Jones, Do YOU want to go through Terrible Tunnel? Now you all already know about my fear of “The Dark.” I’ve already explained it to you, my fear of “The Dark!” What I haven’t talked about was the respect that I had for Chaplain, and for the respect that he had for us. He always wanted us to be our best and to represent the Commandos and the Rangers, whose names we proudly call ourselves. Disappointing Chaplain overcame my fear of “The Dark” and I heard someone say, “Yes Sir!” Wait a minute, that wasn’t someone… THAT WAS ME!!! What did I just do?
BELIEVE ME when I tell you, I was shaking with ever step I took into that pitch black cavern. From the ground to the top of the tunnel must of been 10 feet easily, but even though I was barely 5 feet tall, I walked crouch over because I kept thinking the ceiling was coming down on top of me. It was so dark that I could barely see the end of the tunnel. If I held my hand up, between my face and the ground, I couldn’t see my fingers moving. As I continued through the tunnel, my imagination started to take control and I kept thinking that I was seeing even darker tunnels intersecting with the main tunnel, and that made me stay in the center of the tunnel. Eventually the end of the tunnel started getting bigger and brighter and I breathe a sigh of relief when I exited the tunnel. I looked around and made detailed mental notes of everything I saw. Now it was time to turn around and head back to the group.
I started out walking as stealthy as possible. I’m sure you’re thinking, I know Private Jones has overcame his fear of “The Dark” and all is well! NO! YOU’RE WRONG! I was more frightened going back than I was on the first pass. I kept thinking that something was coming into the tunnel behind me, so I kept looking back in case I needed to start running.
You’ve probably figured by now that I made it back to the group unharmed. When I exited the tunnel Chaplain said: “That is the bravest thing I’ve ever seen!” I cannot tell how those words changed me in an instant. No one had ever expressed to me, so meaningfully, that they were proud of me, for doing anything. And coming from Chaplain, that meant everything to me. A little black kid, from Pacoima, who was deathly afraid of “The Dark” was no longer afraid of the dark. I was transformed in an instant by the words of someone I respected.
From that point on, I wasn’t afraid of anything. If Chaplain would do it, I would do it. When we would go to Sequoia National Forest and camp out on the Kings River, if Chaplain made his bed, back up in the woods away from the fire, I would make my bed back up in the woods away from the fire and away from Chaplain. Then the watch stander would have to search for me, in the dark woods, to tell me it was my time to stand the watch.
It is amazing how the right words said to a young person can affect them either positively or negatively. Children need good role models and positive reinforcement. I know I’ve tried to give both to my children, my grandchildren and my great grandchildren.
FYI – I’m now in my 70’s, but I still vividly remember my time in the Rangers and Christian Commandos.
Thank you, Chaplain. May you Rest-In-Peace.