Note: This article originally ran in October 2001. Details have changed since then, but not the validity of the suggestions.

Arguably, Halloween is the most "schizophrenic" holiday for Christians. While many parents allow their children to dress for the school parade and collect candy, a growing number are grappling with the holiday's darker undertones and wondering how to formulate a biblical response.

Rafael Martinez, director of the Tennessee Valley Bible Students Association (TVBSA), says there are several reasons why many Christians have nothing to do with Halloween, "even if all the while pop culture, peer pressure and the desire to follow the crowd demand otherwise. For these Christians, Halloween is not merely incompatible to Christian faith, but is a dark time of antichristian spirituality that should be shunned."

Should we then hide in our basements, turn out the lights and hope that neighborhood children will pass us by? No parent wants their child to feel left out while the rest of the neighborhood or school is celebrating, so what are the alternatives?

Martinez points out that many churches and towns "have attempted to take the high ground" and provide opportunities for people to gather and enjoy the kind of community activities that are both wholesome, creative and in keeping with the season. Fall festivals and block parties that are focused around themes such as harvest time and civic service happen every weekend across the Tennessee Valley.

Individual Christian families often engage in alternative celebrations of Christian faith in the days surrounding Halloween, notes Martinez. They may engage in special daily devotions or host All Saints Day parties.

Some local churches attempt to counter the darkness of Halloween by staging pageants and celebrations that exalt God and provide everyone involved with a good time as well. For example, the Westmore Church of God in Cleveland, Tenn., is throwing its 10th Annual Hallelujah Night Oct. 30 and 31.

This year's theme is "The Faces of Christ" and will feature a live nativity scene complete with animals. There is no charge, and all children will receive a free bag of candy at the end of the tour. Games and snacks will be available.

Senior Pastor Bill Stonebraker of Calvary Chapel in Honolulu says his church will host its annual "alternative" celebration, a Family Fun Night, on Oct. 31 - complete with dunk tank, an inflated bouncing castle, game booths and treats. "But don't wear the witch, skeleton or devil costume," advised youth ministry pastor Travis Takamiya. "Wear biblical costumes."

Also available at the Calvary Chapel shop are colorful cartoon pamphlets, one type for adults and one for children who choose to go out on trick-or-treat rounds, to hand over in return for candy received. "You've done the work of an evangelist, and turned the evening into something profitable for the Lord," explains the pastor.

Kids Day: U.S.A.

Organizers of this Halloween alternative say the time has come to "replace the Halloween tradition that makes light of fear, death and horror with a new holiday that celebrates the good things that unite Americans - freedom, liberty and justice for all."

The idea is for kids to go door-to-door dressed in patriotic and historical costumes, remembering our country's history and heroes. Along with candy, any pennies the children collect can be sent to Afghanistan. But instead of saying, "Trick or treat," children should say, "Goodies for kids."

Adults signify their willingness to participate by painting pumpkins with liberty bells and apple pies and by hanging an American flag outside. Available on the group's Web site (www.kidsdayusa2001.com) is a sign for your window that says "We celebrate Kids Day: U.S.A!"

Reformation Day

Celebrating the roots of the Protestant Reformation is yet another alternative to Halloween. PCA News reports that Children's Ministry International advocates turning Oct. 31 into a holiday that commemorates the day that Martin Luther posted his 95 theses on the Wittenburg church door.

Brad Winsted, director of Children's Ministry International, suggests Christians throw a party at church where all dress as characters from the Reformation. He says he has dressed up as John Calvin, Martin Luther, a peasant, and even John Tetzel (the salesman of those infamous indulgences). "When I couldn't get a 16th century idea, then I dressed as a Bible character," Winsted told PCA News. According to Winsted, a church fellowship hall can be transformed into Wittenburg, Germany or Geneva.

Children's Ministry International has developed a small booklet, "Heroes of the Reformation," explaining many of these ideas, along with lessons on the lives of Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Knox and other reformers. (Call 1-888-345-4264).

Too Far?

Other Christians attempt to use the fear factor of Halloween to their advantage. "Hell House," a ministry of the Abundant Life Christian Center in Arvada, Colo., is a franchised, church-sponsored haunted house that opens around Halloween. Other "fear-inducing outreaches" include Judgment House and Revelation Walk.

The stated idea behind these Christian alternatives to Halloween is to put the devil on center stage. In Hell House, for example, "demons" guide kids through scenes "depicting the hell and destruction that Satan and this world can bestow on those who choose not to serve Jesus Christ." Kids are led through such staged traumas as an abortion, a suicide, a school shooting or death by AIDS - then into a meeting in "hell" with the "devil."

"Hell House is an absolute must because of the timely topics it deals with in an aggressive fashion. Through the vehicle of drama, it vividly communicates to every witness that there is a spiritual battle raging each day that we live. That battle is for the eternal destiny of their soul, and if they choose to follow the world's pathway the results will be a very real hell on earth in their lives as well as an eternal hell," Hell House's Website explains.

Finally, the kids are rescued out of hell by angels who take them to "heaven" to meet "Jesus." Before they leave, the kids can pray for their salvation.

Spreading The Word Instead

Rather than blasting Halloween as the devil's night, says Rafael Martinez (with TVBSA), "Christians should earnestly set about to provide an answer to every man who would need to hear about avoiding any involvement with the darker side of the day. Reasons -- not railings -- are the need of the hour for the church."

Martinez suggests that pastors and other church leaders directly spread sound, balanced and Biblical admonitions to the Christians they lead. People need to be aware of Halloween's spiritual snares, he says. "The sheer amount of misinformation about the occult alone is a major problem that garbles clear communication. Add to this the temptation to evangelical smugness about being 'in the light' and a miltantly witch-hunting posture, and the task of intelligent dialogue about the dangers of Halloween becomes almost impossible.

"Encouraging others to avoid Halloween's occult snares to please God out of love for His direction should be done in the right spirit," adds Martinez. It should be done "out of love for their spiritual condition, yet with passion, tempered by humility and a commitment to truth."

Original publication date: October 31, 2001