Halloween can help a child’s faith development

I’m probably one of only a handful of Baptist ministers that you’ll ever meet who actually considers Halloween a favorite holiday.  Every year, I look forward to reliving the wonderfully rich memories of my childhood by invoking all of the imaginary and fantastic surrealism that comes with the season: trick or treating, decorating the house with cobwebs, carving pumpkins, and watching “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.”

One of the other reasons why I love Halloween is that it plays right into my big, bodacious imagination.  I love fantasy and fiction, and there’s nothing better than Halloween that brings out the best literary archetypes of old: vampires (Bram Stoker), ghosts (Shakespeare), wizards (Wizard of Oz), and creepy animals (Edgar Allen Poe’s The Raven and The Black Cat).  This also brings out the best in my spooky story-telling, which is a favorite activity I do with the children in the neighborhood on Halloween night.

Aside from Halloween night, my children and I participate in story-telling, make-believe, and dress-up in our household all year long.  These activities build my children’s sense of creativity and take them into various pretend universes.  I am blessed when they are generous enough to invite me to play along!

Self-expression through role-playing is critical in a child’s faith development.  According to James Fowler, a definitive scholar on faith development, make-believe “provides powerful symbolizations for children’s inner terrors and for the hidden fantasies … that bring them secret feelings of guilt.  [Fantasies] also provide the child with tangible models of courage and virtue and with conviction-awakening stories showing that goodness and resourcefulness triumph over evil and sloth.”

In other words, storytelling allows children to objectify their inner fears and struggles and see them as a healthy part of life—fear when held in perspective keeps us safe; exploring the mysteries of a dark, dark room can lead to candy-corn blessings.

Unfortunately a majority of children in America are sitting in front of TVs and computers without parents monitoring content.  This can feed them sensational programming void of a moral anchor.

James Fowler gives this warning: “The desirability of children’s exposure to death, poverty, treachery and maliciousness in the context of fairy tales and Bible stories, when told to them by trusted adults with whom their feelings can be tested and shared is one thing.  It does not…sanction children’s exposure to the super-realistic violence, materialism and sexploitation of prime-time television programming.”

My family’s way of doing Halloween ultimately helps my children translate the metaphors, signs, and symbols of stories into tangible life lessons.  This also helps them in their faith as they navigate and learn about the symbols of Christianity.  Just consider the many symbols we use at church: Christ is the “Lamb” of God; we take communion by drinking and eating elements representative of body and blood; we hang crosses– ancient tools of persecution and execution—in our sanctuaries.   Each one of these symbols has the power to teach important lessons of our faith.

Inevitably, then, fairy tales, dress-up, and yes, Halloween, can help children garner the necessary resources to discern fact from fiction, make-believe from truth, and fairy tale from the faithfully true Word of God.  That is a part of the power of stories.

Published by Joe LaGuardia

I am a pastor and author in Vero Beach, Florida, and write on issues related to spirituality, faith, politics, and culture.

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