Happy Hallelujah Night!
Christians offer an alternative to Halloween with petting zoos, bouncy gyms, and lots of candy.
BY: Patton Dodd
What's an evangelical Christian to do with Halloween? The annual celebration of witches and warlocks has ancient roots in pagan celebrations of dark spirits, but it has long since donned a more innocent appearance: adorable children scrambling down neighborhood streets; teenagers dressing up for the high school dance; adults enjoying a chance to act like kids at a costume party.
But for millions of evangelical Christians, Halloween's patina of innocence is not innocent enough—it is still Satan's holiday, a direct assault against the biblical injunction not to engage in witchcraft or commune with the spirits of the dead (Deut. 18: 10–13). Some evangelical families may allow their kids to dress up and get candy from the neighbors, but many others rule the holiday out entirely.
For some evangelical churches, Halloween is an occasion for outreach. Some produce "Hell Houses," an evangelistic twist on haunted houses that frighten visitors with blood-and-guts scenes of real human terror: drunk driving accidents; drug overdoses; abortions gone bad. Attendees funnel through each terrifying exhibit and end up in a room where they are offered a chance to believe in Jesus.
in Tulsa, Oklahoma, calls its Hell House "Nightmare" and touts it as a "reality-based" portrayal of the consequences of drug abuse, alcohol, premarital sex, and other "top killers among young people today." More than 30,000 people attend "Nightmare" each year.
Another option is to avoid the scary side of Halloween entirely, and transform it into a family-friendly celebration. Many churches hold a "Fall Harvest Festival" or a "Hallelujah Night," offering Bible costume competitions and game nights—complete with lots and lots of candy—as an alternative to trick-or-treating. Hallelujah Nights are noted mostly for their tame atmosphere, replacing the dark overtones of Halloween with the good, clean fun of Sunday School.
But in recent years, some evangelical churches have managed to up the ante and challenge Halloween with thrilling events that make regular Halloween partying seem sub-par, ordinary, and, well,dead
At New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colo., Hallelujah Night is a citywide event, attracting thousands of kids and parents with elaborate petting zoos, carnival rides, cotton candy and caramel apples, and, again, lots and lots of candy. Last year, 5,000 people attended, and New Life expects to see 7,000 or more this Halloween.
"It's become one of the biggest nights of the year for our church," says Rob Stennett, creative director of New Life Church. "Hallelujah Night used to be something we worried about—we just hoped a few people would show up here instead of trick-or-treating. Now it's this huge regional event."
Costumes at Hallelujah Night are as elaborate as anything in the neighborhood streets, and they are not restricted to Bible characters—you are as likely to see Dora the Explorer or Bob the Builder as you are to see King David, Mary, and Joseph. Stennett says that there is little overtly religious about Hallelujah Night outside of its name. "We have kids being vaulted onto a Velcro wall, kids jousting and wrestling in Sumo outfits, kids bungee jumping, kids riding a blow-up bull.
"It's just a big, goofy, silly, fun time. People love it."
While the original purpose of Hallelujah night was to push back against the frankly dark spirituality of Halloween, Stennett stresses that Hallelujah Night is just a more practical option than trick-or-treating.
"Being in a church is safer than walking door to door; candy from a stranger is more dangerous than a handful of Tootsie Rolls from a Bible teacher," says Stennett. "We don't emphasize this as an alternative to ghouls and goblins; it's more just a way to keep kids off dark, cold streets."