Alternative Halloween: case study

The mystery of the disap­pearing chocolate cake is an alternative Halloween party in Cornwall, organised by several churches across the Lizard and Mount’s Bay Methodist circuit. Julie Swann tells the story be­hind the (rather odd) title…  

The mystery of the disappearing chocolate cake took the place of previous years’ light parties. Feeling it was time for something different, we put on our thinking caps and engaged our praying hearts to reflect on what might attract children to a Christian alternative to Halloween. If we were to encourage children to come it had to be really appealing and were inspired to try a murder mystery, but without the murders. We researched similar activities for children and the result was a mystery with a difference, and chocolate cake!  

The event took place during the early evening, starting with hot dogs and drinks. Around 15 minutes later everyone came together to meet Granny Smith and various guests arriving for her birthday party. One by one they took their places at the table, decked out with balloons, gifts and of course chocolate cake. After some banter between party guests there was a huge commotion and the lights went out. Seconds later, the lights came back on and the table was in disarray (as was Granny Smith) and the chocolate cake had vanished! Children were then charged with the task of discovering the guilty cake thief by finding clues in each of eight challenges which included puzzles, games and obstacle courses.  

At the end everyone came together to discover the culprit. We concluded with one of our party guests giving a short interactive talk about following Jesus, the light of the world, rather than making wrong choices. Glow sticks were then given to each person, lights switched out and we sang along to Hillsong’s ‘Let your light shine’ and shared the chocolate cake.  

In rural Cornwall it’s difficult to get anyone to come to anything. What thrilled us was that the majority of the 50 or so who came along belonged to families who might be considered to be on the fringes of our churches. We were also delighted to have a great team of people from many churches working hard beforehand to invite children along. In previous years we had only really attracted children of Christian families who were looking for an alternative to Halloween but this time we had a good mix of those from inside and outside the church. There wasn’t a heavy focus on criticising Halloween, but rather we tried to ensure children had a great time in a positive atmosphere, with Christian leaders who were sharing God’s love and good news in a practical and engaging way.  

Plans are already underway for our next ‘mystery’ – perhaps something along the lines of a ‘Sweet shop heist’. This event is all part of a bigger picture of the work among children and families within our communities. We hope to attract even more children next time – and the best way we’ve found to do it is personal invitation – and chocolate cake!  

Five ways to engage children this Halloween:  

1. Make it fun: we used a range of activities that covered all the learning styles as well as encouraging a sense of competitiveness among teams.

2. Make it challenging: remember there may be children of differing ages and stages. Make provision for everyone to engage with the activities, simplifying them or making them more challenging as appropriate.  

3. Make it appealing: the use of chocolate appealed to most children. When trying to run events at the same time as other attractive activities in the community, it helps to have something that will draw children and families in.  

4. Make it relevant: the air of mystery surrounding the event tapped into the ‘unknown’ element of Halloween but without all the dark and unpleasant aspects. If organising a similar event (at any time of year) try to tie in with whatever else is happening in the community.  

5. Make it biblical: finishing with an interactive reflection on Jesus, the light of the world, followed by Hillsong’s ‘Let Your Light Shine’ gave a positive message to go out with and a powerful alternative to Halloween.

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