When I was growing up, and to a large extent for children today, Halloween is about candy and dressing up. Wearing a fun costume to be a superhero or favorite character, or perhaps acting out what you might want to be when grown up has been at the heart of the holiday. And I included the photo of the kid as St. Sebastian because it is a pretty clever costume as well as being a bit on the scary side, yet still teaching about the church. In fact, having a party where folks dress up as martyrs would be really frightening - yet that is one way religious folks have tried to distance themselves from the secular nature of Halloween. There is something universal about the desire to dress up as someone or something else, to hide behind a costume or mask and try on something different.
However, now the emphasis is shifting away from a fun holiday for kids which celebrates creativity and fantasy to a very adult holiday where dressing up is all about pushing the envelope and taking risks that you wouldn't normally dare to think about. Granted, I do community theater and I love the idea of dressing up as someone else, of trying on a different persona (and I do a lot of costuming and have a large personal collection of vintage clothes and costume pieces). But often at Halloween parties for youth and adults, there is a darker side of acting out - and not safely within the set confines of a play or theatrical production.
As a study for teenagers from The Thoughtful Christian puts it, "Even Halloween costumes are trending away from silly fun and toward a celebration of the violent, the grotesque, and the sexually suggestive." (The Thoughtful Christian offers a downloadable study for Youth on Halloween - as well as a study for Adults - please check it out!)
How can we help children and youth enjoy the fun and creativity of dressing up and enjoying a good ghost story and a party without being pushed into objectifying themselves with a sexually suggestive costume or watching disturbingly violent movies that seem to abound on television and in the theaters during the month of October.
Don't forget that amid all the commercial excesses is a real, authentic celebration in the church - All Saints Day. (Check out this great article on the history of Halloween and All Saints) Help our children and youth to think about the messages that certain images project to others as we also take the time to think about those who have been examples for us in the past. Dress up as someone historic, worthy of remembering. Dress up as a celebration of the wild richness of God's creation and a creative God who gives us incredible artistic gifts. Help young people to dress up for fun, for remembrance, for a confrontation of their own fears. . . but help them to be smart and safe.
And for the church - let us go into November remembering the great cloud of witnesses surrounding us. Here are lesson plans for children(both younger and older) adults, and an inter-generational lesson on All Saints. For youth, try out this free lesson on faith using "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown." Here are some ideas for celebrating All Saints Day at your church. I have a lot more resources at my Pinterest Page on All Hallow's Eve and All Saints Day.