Haunted house ride or no haunted house ride, that was the question. It was Halloween week. My boys, then eight and nine, were part of a cub scout pack that had organised the outing. My husband John and I knew it was all in fun. There were no real skeletons jumping out of closets or ghosts making scary noises. And it was their first big pack outing. But we were still conflicted.
Some may feel that we were overthinking the issue. And maybe we were. What held us back was the question: Would this create a scoffing attitude towards the idea of spirits and evil? Is this a part of the deception to say the devil does not exist? Might thinking that this is all fun and funny make our children more susceptible to the occult? Is the popularity of Halloween and its transformation of the macabre to fun, a trick of the devil or a treat for our children?
Trick or treat? That is the question.
Halloween, I was told, is becoming popular in Singapore. Will it evolve like it has in the US, with haunted houses and people dressed in macabre costumes? Will professing Christians decorate their homes for the occasion as is so common in the US? Will it become one of the year’s bright spots for children? Maybe not. Still, the introduction of Halloween into Singapore might be a good time for those of us as Christians to take stock, to pause to ask questions.
The importance of a good question was something I learnt during a brief encounter I had when I was 21. I had arranged to meet a friend for a movie at Capitol. I was early and so dropped by Youth for Christ in Bible House. Mr Andrew Goh, the then-national director of YFC, asked me what my plans were for the day and I told him, “Movie.” It was Dracula. He asked why I chose that movie. I was immediately defensive. It was just a movie, I did not believe Dracula was real, I countered. Granted, he responded, but why would you want to spend your money supporting a movie on Dracula? By going to see it, would you not be saying to Hollywood that movies like that were worth producing?
I went for the movie but the question bugged me. How and what I spent my money on promoted certain ideas and values. Until then, my understanding on money was simply that I should be generous in giving. The question that ruined that particular movie experience was not whether I should watch movies but whether I was promoting a particular idea by choosing to spend my time and money on it. It was not about boycotting a certain kind of movie; in fact, it wasn’t simply about movies.
I have seen children roll their eyes when parents say they should not read Harry Potter books because witchcraft is in it. One young adult snapped at his mother: “FICTION, mum, it said FICTION, I am not going to learn witchcraft from Harry Potter. You read Tolkien; you don’t believe in Merlin, do you?”
I think if Andrew Goh had simply told me that I shouldn’t watch a Dracula movie I would have insisted it was harmless and moved on. But his question hit me deeper.
Back to Halloween. Halloween costumes and accessories are apparently becoming common in Singapore. Which should be a surprise because Singapore already has its own halloween season, a time where the boundaries between the spirit and physical worlds are believed to be thinned. It’s called the Hungry Ghost Festival. So why has Halloween become so popular? I can think of three reasons: it crosses religious lines (even though it apparently originated with the Celts); it’s more fun (few people object to a day of dressing up) and it’s kid-friendly (few children would think getting candy is a terrible idea).
But the question remains: Is this a trick or a treat? Is this worldwide popularity an insidious way of minimising the fear of the occult? Or a harmless way of having fun? What are some alternative ways of celebrating that day? Some churches celebrate Reformation Day which falls on 31 Oct. Is that at least a partial response? Tell me what you think. Ask your children, grandchildren. I would love to hear from you.
Mary Yeo-Carpenter believes that good questions are as important as good answers. For that reason, she enjoys young people in her ministry in North Carolina as they are fearless in asking questions.