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.

Here are some things to consider when broaching the subject of zombies, vampires, ghosts, and other creepy, crawly and scary things.

Take the lead. Christian parents shouldn’t avoid talking to their children about the dark stuff. “It is essential that parents see the great need to be the voice in their child’s life, to tell them that the images and dark themes are not normal—no matter how many TV channels are making stars out of the undead. If parents are silent, the void is filled with whatever voice (or channel) is speaking the loudest.”

Focus on the Light. The best place to start is with God and what his Word has to say about following Jesus (see John 3:16-19). “An obsession to seek the darkness is a judgment from God’s perspective of those who refuse the Light. Understanding Jesus, his goodness, righteousness and holiness, is real the issue. To focus only on the darkness, and its dangers and risks, is to still miss the Light. God did not warn us with scare tactics to follow him, so we need to follow his example and not use fear to scare our kids away from the scary stuff,” says Wier. “Our kids need to hear truth from someone who knows the source of Truth—and truth, like love, casts our fear.”

Reinforce that evil is real. Sometimes, if we only mention that Halloween depictions of wizards and ghosts are not real, we forget to talk about how there is a very real, evil being inhabiting our world—Satan. “You should explain to your kids how the devil and evil are real and what sin is,” reminds Jagears. She suggests using Bible readings as the basis to then extrapolate into storytelling and what-ifs for situations they may come across in real life.

Be creative with the holiday. Think about how your family can take what the world has corrupted and instead participate in a life-giving way, suggests Wier. “For instance, trick or treating is not evil, but dressing like the undead glorifies what Jesus came to conquer. So trick or treat in costumes that celebrate God’s good creation, creatures, noble people, fun characters, etc.”

Know your family. This might seem obvious, but as adults we forget that what seems harmless to us can be very scary for kids. Some children like to be scared, while others don’t. “Although kids might put on a tough façade, and act like they are enjoying it, they may still be frightened,” says Henson. “I’d advise parents to be mindful of that, and perhaps wait until the kids are a bit older to get out the scary decorations.”

Especially when your children are young, take special care to shield them from the scarier side of Halloween. “With small children, I’d take great pains to keep them sheltered from the dark stuff until their imaginations and their ability to understand have matured enough to see it and process it rationally,” adds Jagears.

Make it a heart issue. If your child seems to be drawn to dark things this time of year, ask him or her why—and take the time to remind the child about how we’re to live every day. “If whatever they chose to embrace on October 31 is not acceptable to embrace the other 364 days with your whole heart and a clear conscience before the Lord, then that probably settles the issue,” says Wier. “A family can look at Halloween through the same redeemed eyes that we look at everything under Christ.”

Take a stand. Sometimes, our position at Halloween can be at odds with our neighbors, family or friends, but we should strive to find a balance between not violating our conscious and extending grace to others. “The tough thing is to explain the seriousness of your stance against dark forces and evil being glorified in your family’s costumes and activities and not condemn the many people who find darkness and scary things fun for Halloween, which will likely include friends of your child,” says Jagears.

With black in abundance and scary images and costumes the norm, Halloween can take on the appearance of darkness without any lightness. We can sit back and let the darkness continue to creep over our neighborhoods or we can seize the opportunity to shine the Light were it’s needed most on October 31.

Sarah Hamaker is a certified Leadership Parenting Coach™ through the Rosemond Leadership Parenting Coach Institute. She’s also a freelance writer and editor, and is currently working on a book about sibling rivalry, scheduled for release from Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City in the fall of 2014. Sarah lives in Fairfax, Va., with her husband and four children, who are looking forward to being Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz, Mary the mother of Jesus, Robin Hood and a dragon for Halloween. Visit her at www.parentcoachnova.com.

Publication date: October 25, 2013