For Christians, Halloween can be a source of consternation. Its origin as a pagan festival and the often-heavy emphases on death, darkness, fear, the occult and witchcraft raise theological concerns for some.
The United Methodist Church does not have an official statement or position regarding Halloween. Congregations are free to make their own decisions about Halloween activities.
Many offer alternatives to traditional activities, choosing events that celebrate life rather than death, offer safe fun for children or make the day one to give as well as get.
Some congregations that teach their members about the dangers of getting too involved in Halloween offer alternatively themed festivals or carnivals. They encourage children to dress as famous people, biblical heroes or funny rather than scary characters.
One of the most popular alternatives is trunk-or-treat, a safe alternative to traditional door-to-door trick-or-treating. Church members reserve designated spots in the church parking lot or another location, decorate their vehicles and give candy to children — costumed or not. Some add delicious food, apple cider, games and costume parades, live music, puppet shows and other fun to the candy collecting.
But Halloween is not just about getting, some children are discovering. A "reverse trick-or-treat," where church members go to homes in the neighborhood and pass out candy and treats, as well as an invitation to worship, is a good way to connect with families in the community.
Many United Methodists surprise neighborhood goblins with fair-trade chocolate, produced by farmers who make fair wages. It is a way to teach children that much of the chocolate they eat comes from African nations, like Côte d'Ivoire, where children work in cocoa fields and farmers earn little for their crops.
In other congregations, children trick or treat for UNICEF throughout October. On the last Sunday in October, they wear their "friendly, not scary" Halloween costumes for an after-worship party and continue collecting for UNICEF.
For many United Methodists, October – and Halloween – would not be complete without a pumpkin patch. Often, pumpkin-sale proceeds benefit mission trips and other causes.
Halloween can be a fun, safe holiday that benefits both the children and teens who delight in it and the adults who help them find healthy, helpful ways to celebrate.
Barbara Dunlap-Berg is associate editor of Interpreter