Light in the Night at Calvin College: A Christian Educator’s Perspective

by Ferry Yang, M.Div.

On Saturday night, October 27th, 2012, an event called “Light in the Night” was presented at the Calvin College Knollcrest East Apartments.  It was the 18th annual celebration.  In the flyer there was a quote from Psalm 119:105 that says: “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.”  From 6pm to 8pm children in the area were invited to celebrate together.  The college apartments, eight of them, were decorated according to particular themes: Candy Land, The Jungle, Finding Nemo, Up, Circus, Olympics, Toy Story, and Avengers.  The decorations were nicely done.  There was a contest to choose which apartment had the best decoration.  So parents brought their children to enjoy this celebration.  Some people said that it was a good event as an alternative to the Halloween tradition commonly celebrated on the 31st of October.

In the flyer there was an explanation about Light in the Night: “Although Hallowen is considered by some to be a night of evil, as Christians we are called to reclaim this night—and all things—for Christ.  Thus is the essence of Light in the Night: Sharing the joy and love that Christ has given us.”  Yes, it is true that as Christians we are called to reclaim all things for Christ.  The idea is great.  In the flyer was also a quote from John 8:12 when Jesus says: “I am the light of the world.  Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.”  And so the Light in the Night celebration was meant to bring the light of Jesus into the world and lit up the dark night and the dark celebration commonly celebrated in the form of the Hallowen.

As great as the idea was, in my estimation, the way Light in the Night was celebrated did not really achieve the stated goal, which is to reclaim the Halloween for Christ.  When children visited the apartments, some of the greeters said: “Happy Halloween!”  Now, the thing is, in Light in the Night people came not to celebrate Halloween, but they came to celebrate the “joy and love that Christ has given.”  So it was very unfortunate that the atmosphere was not Christian but instead Halloween.  Perhaps do not like the way the world celebrates Halloween, but here nevertheless a Halloween aura was felt.  So, I wonder, was Light in the Night actually a redemption of the Halloween night or was it a Halloween celebration in a Christian wrap?  It was more like a “mild Halloween” celebration, as my wife puts it.  Or worse, Light in the Night felt like an excuse for Christians to celebrate Halloween.

Educationally speaking, I wonder, what message did Light in the Night send to the nearby community, to Christians, and to the world?  The quotes from the Old Testament and the New Testament were appropriate if truly that event was done properly.  But since the execution did not quite get at the stated goal, then those excellent quotes felt more like a “Christianizing” of Halloween.  Just because there were Biblical verses did not make “mild Halloween” proper for Christians.  Furthermore, adding Biblical verses to wrap Halloween did not make Christians truly redeem that night for Christ.  It would have made a bad reputation for Christianity by sending the wrong message.  People might think: “Oh, this is the way Christians celebrate Halloween.”  Thus the message being sent was saying that Halloween was acceptable in the Christian circle, for even Christians celebrate Halloween.  Yes, it was done less intensely, but it was still Halloween.  Now, I do not doubt that the intention was purely to reclaim Halloween for Christ, but the way it was done was not carefully thought through.  Marshall McLuhan, a media guru, speaks his media maxim: “The Medium is the Message.”  The way Light in the Night was presented was problematic.

As a parent, I am concerned.  As a Christian educator, I am saddened.  Light in the Night, for me, if done like yesterday, becomes a license for Christians to embrace Halloween.  Soon, perhaps just need one generation, all other pagan celebrations would be embraced by Christians the same way Light in the Night was meant to reclaim Halloween for Christ.  Paul urged us to be transformed by the renewing of our mind and not conform to the pattern of the world any longer (Romans 12:1-2).  Unfortunately, the intention to reclaim Halloween for Christ through Light in the Night could not for sure say that the reclamation was successful.  But instead, it left an after taste that gave hint to its failure.  Perhaps, using Paul’s terminologies, Light in the Night left a trace that Christians were still in the state of being conformed to the pattern of the world.

Through Light in the Night, those who came, particularly children, were being educated that it was okay to celebrate Halloween.  Light in the Night has become a bridge for children to experience more intense Halloween as they grow up.  It could also become a bridge for them to enjoy Halloween when they are older.  This is a failure of education.  Or in John Dewey’s word: “a miseducative experience.”  An experience that fails to educate people to achieve the noble and true goal of education.

Light in the Night can be done much better.  Perhaps, a simple training for all the greeters will help them not to say “Happy Halloween!”  Perhaps a more intense development of Biblical themes for the decorations might help reclaim this night for Christ.  Instead of themes like: Avengers or Finding Nemo or Olympics, Light in the Night can have themes like: The Calling of Abraham or the Wonders of God in Egypt or the Prodigal Son Returns, etc.  If truly the quotes from Psalm 119 and John 8 were reflected deeply and implemented carefully, Light in the Night would not feel like a Halloween party wrapped in Christian language.  It seems to me that Light in the Night will have to be redeemed before it can effectively redeem Halloween.  Or perhaps, if it suits Christian education better, Halloween might just need to be “excommunicated” from Christianity altogether.  However, if we feel we ought to redeem Halloween for Christ, then we need to redo Light in the Night properly.

In an era in which everything goes, Christians must be extremely careful in any attempt that carries an educational experience with it.  Louis Berkhof, in Foundations of Christian Education (which he co-authored with Cornelius VanTil), says that Christian education is an education for the children of the royal family of God. Thus any attempt that Christians do that bears an educational significance must be done carefully, for we are educating God’s royal children, who one day will reign together with Jesus Christ, God’s one and only Son.  Therefore, if Light in the Night is to be used to reclaim Halloween for Christ, then Christians must be aware of the educational message participants will experience through the event.