All Hallows Eve is coming. “Do we celebrate Halloween? Are there some people who don’t? Who doesn’t and why?” My seven year old son asks me.

I think of our Pentecostal neighbors across the street, who we play with on a regular basis, “We do celebrate Halloween, but yes some people don’t. I don’t think our friends across the street do but that’s okay. We just need to understand some people celebrate Halloween and some people don’t.”

Celebrating a holiday, or not is so personal, talk about a politically charged word-act!

We do a (very small) trunk or treat in our church parking lot on Halloween. Nowadays everyone in Albany, NY does one, but when we started we were one of the first in the area. Our second year a lot of people didn’t show so I called around to see if more people could help.  I learned then how many people didn’t believe in Halloween or were too busy for the holiday. It was not a huge amount people (probably because we are a tiny church) but in those early days of ministry I was surprised how many people don’t participate.


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What is your favorite holiday and why? Do you participate in holidays? If you could skip a holiday which one would it be?

Examining holiday practices is so fascinating.

I live in a part of the world that is New England enough to get off for Columbus day but is  slowly coming to grips with the narrative of Columbus and the need to change to an Indigenous People’s Day (note: we are so not there yet).

I am in a part of the world where most people celebrate Halloween on Halloween, there is not another designated trick or treating night, and people are not fined for trick or treating if they are, say, over thirteen.

For my friends in the nerd culture Halloween is amazing, for some of my religious friends, they don’t do that. Also some people just find Halloween to0 scary.

I live in an area where Thanksgiving Day is big, but also a charity Equinox does a kind of reverse black Friday and serves meals to hundreds of people and volunteers get up before dawn and wait in line to help (yay!).

Also, as a pastor Thanksgiving is one of the few times I can go and visit family, so I love this secular holiday.

Here in Albany, NY we get both Jewish and Christmas holidays off but the entire season of Yom Kippor is  largely forgotten. We have a lot of Catholics, and a lot of Jewish people but the Muslim family may be the only one in their suburban district.  Ramadan is still relatively unknown by the white population. Diwali is still considered foreign in my context though the SouthEast Asian population is growing in Albany, NY. Diwali Blessings to all those who celebrate.

And Santa is another whole debate. As is Advent in the church world, (and certain elves come up too.) (I have a whole rant about them.)

Holidays are one of those things that are so highly contextualized, and yet no one knows that people do it differently other places.

I remember when we realized that the difference between opening presents Christmas Eve (Catholic) vs. morning (Protestant). Today the timing is so blurred by cross marriages and traditions that it took me til I was a teenager to realize it originally was a Catholic vs. Protestant thing.

And it’s totally strange to my Ghanan and Pakistani congregants that we don’t actually do anything at church Christmas Day or New Year’s Eve.

And I’ll never forget when I asked who brings presents for a children’s sermon and the Mexican-American Family immediately answered the three kings, and I had to rethink what I was going to say on the spot, because their way of celebrating is so legitimate.

How does your village/hometown celebrate beloved holidays. What are the secular rituals everyone takes part in? What are some things you would change if you could? How does your congregation celebrate holidays? What is mentioned in church and what is not–look at the ongoing should we mention mother’s day in church for a huge ongoing debate about holidays.

Who is left out of the celebrations? Are alternatives available to them?

Blue Christmas/Longest Night services are one way to engage differently, another way is the AA sobriety parties that often take place during the holidays.

One of my favorite things that my church has started is pictures with Santa.

It’s a total mission. It’s meant to be a counter narrative and choice to the mall Santa experience

We sell, very affordable, tickets for a brief breakfast. Then we make our way down our hall where Santa is seated in our beautiful Christmas decorated sanctuary, right night to the manger scene with baby Jesus (who may just pop in the manger for that day and then go back into hiding until Christmas Eve). Then adults are free to take as many pictures as they want, for free. Shy children can take their time making their way up or sitting on the steps in front of Santa. Super excited children, like my son Westley, can stand in line multiple times to get multiple hugs with Santa, there is no limit.

I think it’s important to remember that holidays are very personal. How about you? What do your holidays say about you, and what you believe? Here is an opportunity for deep self examination and conversation.

Katy Stenta is a solo pastor at a tiny church that is bigger on the inside in Albany, NY for over eight years and blogs at She is also the co-founder of the fledgling TrailPraisers inclusive Worship. When she is not dreaming up projects and ideas, some of which creep into the church, she plays with her three boys-boys or goes and visits her husband at the library, while he works, to read.

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One thought on “The Pastoral is Political: Celebrating Holidays

  1. Here in New Orleans, which is still a very Catholic city, we observe All Saints Day. When I was a child, we got a holiday from school. Families went to the cemetery and cleaned up the family tomb and brought flowers. It’s not as big a deal as it used to be, but people still bring flowers, and one large cemetery has a Catholic Mass on that day led by the archbishop.

    Liked by 1 person

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