This time of year, it’s nearly impossible not to see ghosts, witches, goblins, zombies, vampires and other dark figures that populate the landscape of stores and neighborhoods. According to the National Retail Federation (NRF), slightly fewer Americans will celebrate Halloween this year (158 million) than last year (170 million), but plenty of scary stuff will still be out in force.

Pop culture has become saturated with this darkness. For example, zombies have popped up in major motion pictures (Zombieland, World War Z) and popular books (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies), and vampires have morphed into teen idols in the Twilight book and movie series. Witches have their own TV show this year (“American Horror: Coven”), while vampires also appear in “The Vampire Diaries.” 

“It’s in our mankind DNA to seek out the darkness. Today it is zombies and vampires, but mankind has a long history with ‘the dark side,” said Kim Wier, author of Redeeming Halloween and host of “Sunday Night Live” on KSBJ-FM. “From inventing festivals that celebrate death to the horrors of the gladiator rings, today’s ghouls are really part of something much bigger. God’s word says this about our fascination with dark things: ‘This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed’ John 3:19-20.”

Today, Halloween themes have moved from October into everyday life. “There was a time, not too long ago, when movies and TV shows about witches and zombies and vampires were only to be found around Halloween time. But with the popularity of the Twilight series and the endless TV shows about vampires, like “The Walking Dead,” “American Horror Story” and the like, it’s relentless, year-round exposure and very difficult to avoid,” said Melissa Henson, director of grassroots activism and education for the Parents Television Council.

That saturation has led to more acceptance of such horror as commonplace. “We have desensitized ourselves so much with the constant escalation of violence and terror that the exposure of what used to give us a thrill now doesn’t even give us pause,” said Wier. “Dark shadows, scary music and Godzilla were exciting to a culture more guarded against depravity. Now, with there being seemingly no limits, it takes hearts being ripped out and demons possessing school girls to make us even take notice.”

Melissa Jagears, author and mother of three, sees the embrace of more evil-like things as a continuum of what has been around for centuries. “I think the prevalence of this darkness is probably less than it used to be. But what fascination does exist is not taken as seriously as before. Think of the panic over witches in seventeenth-century Salem and the gargoyles meant to scare away evil spirits—people took dark spiritual forces more seriously than they do now. I bet having a party with people dressed in demonic costumes for nothing more than ‘fun’ would have been considered foolish not that long ago.”

Shine the Light Into the Darkness

Since avoiding the scary stuff isn’t entirely possible, talking to our kids about the images and scenes of Halloween can help them navigate the season—and all year long. “It’s getting harder, I think, to avoid the dark imagery at Halloween-time. When I was a kid there were a few haunted houses, but most of the neighborhood decorations centered on cartoonish witches and ghosts, and carved pumpkins that weren’t at all frightening. But today, the Halloween decorations are so realistic looking. There are skulls and skeletons, demons and the like, that could be genuinely frightening for small children,” says Henson.