As October rolls around, many youth leaders, as well as parents, begin to wonder how to address the topic of Halloween. Children and teens will inevitably encounter celebrations and conversations about the holiday, but how do we handle it in church? Should we ignore it all together, and hope no one asks about it? Are we to shun and decry any recognition of Halloween? Can we discuss it? The approach of Halloween is actually an excellent opportunity to open conversation with teens about culture, tradition, and the danger of the occult. The season is also a great time to celebrate autumn or harvest. Use some of the following activities to talk about Halloween and, if desired, to have fun with fall instead!
Opening Questions or Activities: Discuss the following questions before or during activities; if the intention is to focus on fall, select one of the activities as your emphasis instead.
- Where does Halloween come from, and why do you think it might be controversial? Discuss the origins of the holiday, many of which come from pagan roots: November First is All Saints’ Day, and it was widely believed that the day prior (All “hallow’s Eve”…Hallowe’en…Halloween), the spirits would run rampant trying to trick people. You could escape the evil spirits by donning costumes or offering treats.
- Is Halloween bad?
This can be a sensitive question. It is arguable that many of our Christmas traditions have roots in pagan practices, so why should we worry so about Halloween? Dressing up or getting candy seems innocent enough, and for many it is, but be aware of those in our audience and how their families might feel about the holiday.
- Candy survey! Most people can agree that sweet treats are enjoyable (well, with the exception of dentists, perhaps). Since it’s everywhere in stores during fall time, use fun-sized snacks to encourage activities. Have students form groups according to favorite varieties, and play games such as the candy bucket drop described below. You might also merely take a roll call of who prefers what type of candy from those in your group.
- Favorite fall things: Have students list favorite autumn-related items, with an alphabetical twist: go around the room and list things one at a time, with each item beginning with a letter of the alphabet (for instance, “apples”, “bales of hay”, “candy corn”…). Apologies in advance to the student who winds up with Q or X.
- Costumes with a twist: invite students to choose a Bible character to portray in words and/or costume. The Bible is far from cartoon-innocent! You might even have fun sharing some of the more gruesome or sinister stories of Scripture (Jael’s tent peg, anyone?).
Scripture Focus: Select one particular parable or passage to hone in on, or examine a few verses. If you’d like to focus more on an anti-Halloween campaign, you may wish to look up passages that refer to the occult. The following verses hone in more on the harvest elements.
- Genesis 1 (God gave seed-bearing plants for food): celebrate how God has blessed us with all things on Earth, including plants. Discuss how we can derive food from seeds and plants, and what favorite elements are. Identify flowers and trees with students for a mini-science lesson, and emphasize how God gives us all of those things!
- Genesis 8:22 (Harvest time will never cease; God’s covenant not to destroy the Earth). This is a valuable reminder from the story of Noah. Sometimes we hear “doom and gloom” predictions regarding global warming or the state of our planet, but we have a promise from God that things will always bloom and grow on Earth. The world can be a mess sometimes, but we rely on the Lord for all good things, grown and otherwise.
- Matthew 9:35-38 (The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few). What does harvest mean? Harvest time is the season to reap the benefits of hard work and labor throughout the planting season. Without workers to pick the food, plants and fruits will die. This parable is a reminder that we are called to “harvest” other believers for God’s kingdom. Of course, it is not all up to us. God does the work, but we have opportunity to plant seeds and harvest workers!
Games and Additional Activities: Use any combination of the following to have fun with autumn-themed festivities and enjoy the season with students.
- Pumpkin carving (or decorating): use real or craft pumpkins to have a fun contest for decoration! For older students, consider using real carving materials and traditional pumpkins. Younger participants might benefit from craft supplies to adorn pumpkins with goofy faces.
- Leaf collages: use real or decorative leaves to glue together in a creative collage. Even teenagers can benefit from putting together elements of nature in a new artwork.
- Candy Corn tower: how many candy corn pieces can be stacked atop one another before the tower collapses? Challenge students to balance the confectionary treat. You might also consider candy corn relay races or candy corn collages.
- If weather and permits allow, host a bonfire for youth, complete with worship songs and marshmallow roasting.
- Host a mystery dinner: use strange and creative names for foods to host a fun and strange themed meal. Allow students to select their “courses” with cryptic features, and put them together in odd ways. They might wind up with spaghetti noodle “worms” but no “dinglehopper” fork!
- Bob for apples! This game might seem like a “lost art” or might feel unsanitary in a post-pandemic world, but there are many ways to make it happen. Attach bamboo skewers, strings, or even clothespins to the ends of apples to make them more accessible, or pick up only the stems with mouths, rather than sinking teeth into the whole thing.
- Fall treats: no great youth activity is complete without snacks, and autumn offers a whole host of seasonal options. Consider products like caramel apples, cider, popcorn balls, or pumpkin-themed…anything!
- Go off-campus to a local corn maze, pumpkin patch, or even an escape room adventure!
Whatever you do and however you celebrate, focus on the joy of fellowship with others, and celebrate the bountiful harvest of all that God gives us. Be mindful of sensitivities and uncertainties but rejoice in the positive elements of why we gather together!