Almost every year someone asks me how I feel about celebrating Halloween with young children, especially in a church setting. My personal feeling is that Halloween is much like many other things in life; it’s all about how you look at it. I look at it as a learning opportunity. At our school we tell the story of why being a Christian is like being a pumpkin. Many of you have heard it, but in case you haven’t, here is the short version:
Being a Christian is like being a pumpkin. First, God picks you from the patch, brings you in and washes all the dirt off of you. Then, He goes in and scoops out all the yucky stuff inside, like hate, mean thoughts, and greed. Next, He gives you a new smiling face and puts His light inside of you for all the world to see.
This is a great story to tell as you carve your Jack o’lantern. There is also a wonderful book version, called The Pumpkin Parable by Liz Curtis Higgs. If we teach children to see every Jack o’lantern as a reminder of God’s love, they will remember that image throughout their lives, and be reminded of it every Halloween. How powerful an opportunity is that?
There are scary things in the world. We protect our children from them as best we can, but even very young children have fears. Halloween offers a wonderful opportunity to talk with children about fear and what we can do when we feel afraid. My childhood nighttime fear was that there were crocodiles living under my bed at night, who would grab any part of my body that I was careless enough to let dangle off of the bed. Obviously that was a totally irrational fear, but I have spoken with other people with very similar fears. What was yours?
There’s a wonderful book that many of our teachers use, called There’s a Nightmare in My Closet by Mercer Mayer, which deals with just those kinds of fears.
Two more good books are Go Away Big Green Monster, by Ed Emberley and The Owl Who Was Afraid of the Dark, by Jill Tomlinson and Paul Howard.
I love the way these books empower children. One of the reasons children are fearful is that in a big world that is filled with many people, most of whom are larger than they are, preschoolers may feel very small and powerless. Dressing up as a superhero or someone with magical powers makes them feel more powerful. They can pretend to be that invincible person, and “pretend” is what children do best. It is how they make sense of the world, how they deal with issues that may feel too big for them to talk about, how they try out different strategies for solving problems, how they “try on” different personalities.
Also, by pretending, children learn what is real. They come to know that putting on a costume does not truly change a person. If I put on a costume, I can also take it off. If I see someone else in a costume, there is a person underneath.
A special note: Some children have a really hard time with this. If your child is truly terrified by people in costumes, always remove the child from those situations, but do give him/her many opportunities to dress up. Through the years we have had a few children with this kind of fear. That is why we ask that parents in our program always check with us before inviting any costumed visitors to playschool. Clowns seem to be especially upsetting, but we also had a bad experience once with Clifford the Big Red Dog, so we are always cautious! If your child has this kind of fear, it is best to skip Halloween parties altogether until the child is older, but do try some “bibliotherapy” with the books above and others in the same vein.
So, while I do not care for the explicit gruesomeness sometimes associated with Halloween, I don’t believe it is necessary to shun Halloween altogether either. There are many things in the world scarier than Halloween, things like child abuse, hunger, cancer, poverty, war, bigotry, illiteracy, sexual exploitation, greed and the examples we see on the news every night of man’s inhumanity to man. We can handle Halloween. I believe we can even use it to teach our children positive things. And on that note ….
If you are looking for a wholesome way to celebrate October 31st with your young child, come to the Front Street Playschool Truck or Treat fundraiser in the parking lot between Front and Davis Streets in downtown Burlington, immediately in front of Front Street UMC. Parking is available behind our church, as well as in both the Macedonia Lutheran Church lot and the First Christian United Church of Christ lot. Admission is $5 per person with a family cap of $20. Children can “truck or treat” at a huge assortment of vehicles – a concrete mixer, limo bus, school bus, fire truck, numerous law enforcement vehicles, dirt bikes, limousine and leaf truck, to name only a few. We will also have games for 25 cents a ticket, and construction centers, face painting and temporary tattoos for the children to enjoy for FREE, with the price of admission. Hours are 10:00 am until 1 pm. Tell your friends.