Do not speak against one another, brethren. He who speaks against a brother or judges his brother speaks against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge of it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the One who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor? (James 4:11-12)

I grew up in a conservative family. We attended a conservative church, my parents voted conservatively, and my father disliked “magic.” Thus, as you can probably discern, we did not participate in Halloween. We didn’t trick-or-treat, dress up, or carve pumpkins. We celebrated “harvest” and our church always had games and hayrides by the plenty. I don’t remember my parents being super harsh or legalistic about us being anti-Halloween; we simply didn’t celebrate the spooky holiday.

However, somewhere along the way I think judgment happened. I was a fairly judgmental kid in a lot of ways; if I knew the rules and somebody was breaking them, it was my civic duty to let them know and form an opinion about it. I remember having a conversation with some other little church girls about why one of our friends wasn’t coming to harvest festival. Rumor had it that her family celebrated Halloween, and that she was going trick-or-treating! One of us made the comment that that was too bad, because Halloween is evil and celebrates the devil.

It might have even been me. I honestly don’t remember.

A lot of research is available to Christian parents these days about the subject of Halloween. And while it has been an “in” thing to say that “Halloween has pagan roots!” many who have thoroughly researched the matter actually claim Christian roots to the holiday.

But rather than endlessly debating roots, origins, and the merits of celebrating dead things, allow me now to tell you a story about the first time I really watched a family celebrate Halloween.

They were Mennonites, a family of gentle, pacifist musicians. Four daughters, close in age, would scamper about their large, historic house singing, teasing, playing with the various animals, knitting, and watching black-and-white movies together in the evening. And to cap it all off, this seemingly old fashioned and conservative little family adored Halloween.

Spider webs and skeletons hung from the trees in the front yard. The footpath was lined with ghoulish trinkets. Their sprawling front porch displayed at least four uniquely carved jack-o-lanterns (one for each daughter). The house was splashed with orange and black. Inside the atmosphere glowed with happy festivity and people drank cocoa and munched popcorn. Their large extended family would get together for elaborate, annual costume parties.

I was a late teen, or possibly into my twenties, when I sat on their front porch one evening carving my first pumpkin. While hacking away, and marveling at the enormity of pumpkin seeds, I listened to my friend Ace describe the sweet family memories they had crafted around this time of year. I think she probably felt a little sorry for me, actually, as I admitted that we never “did” Halloween at my house.

Her family inspired me to enjoy and appreciate Halloween in a new way, a way I never could have as a young child. For you see, kids naturally tend to be judgmental and see things in black and white. When we’re young we soak up everything we hear from every adult and try to piece together the different parts of life. This then becomes the trajectory for adulthood, unless our parents help us. Unless they model for us the difference between judging and discerning. You see, judgment makes a call: it says “this is wrong.” Discernment helps us notice things about others. Discernment allows us to act appropriately and decide the right course for ourselves without necessarily condemning those who have different convictions.