Monday, October 22, 2012

All Hallow's Eve: My Take on Halloween

A few years ago, during a time of family devotions, we were talking about the “PACT” form of prayer: Praise, Ask, Confess, and Thank. In the devotion we were reading, we were also asked to read the Lord’s Prayer, and then the lesson asked which part of the Lord’s Prayer fit each letter of PACT.

The very first one, of course was Praise, and my wife asked what part of the Lord’s Prayer was praise. Well, I immediately raised my hand and said, “I know, I know.” And so, my wife called on me. Do you know which part of the Lord’s Prayer is considered praise? - “Our Father, who art in heaven; Hallowed be thy Name.” You see, in that prayer we are saying, “May your Name be hallowed.”

Now, when I said that, one of our kids immediately asked, “What does hallowed mean? Is it like Halloween?” - What do you think? When we pray, “Hallowed be thy Name,” is it like Halloween?

I think that question goes to the question that is often asked in Christian circles, “What do we do with Halloween?” - You know, when I was a kid, our church used to have Halloween parties every year. We used to hold it out in the woods at the Optimist Club building. It was a great time. I remember going, and our family arrived early one year. It was the year that I was dressed up like the Incredible Hulk. I had a rubber Hulk mask and inflatable muscles. Anyway, because we arrived early, we split up and hid. I think I hid behind a tree in the surrounding woods. Then we would each one “arrive” at different times, so as to help disguise who we really were. One year I was Scooby Doo. (That was before I could do the Scooby Doo voice.) We had a really great time.

However, as time went by, I encountered Christians at other churches (even within the same denomination) who would never do such a thing. From their perspective, Halloween was an evil, even Satanic celebration. It was to be avoided completely.

Some suggested Christian alternatives, sometimes called Hallelujah Parties, instead of Halloween Parties. These ranged from events where you could dress up, so long as there were no monsters, or evil costumes, to events where you could only dress as Bible characters, to no costumes allowed whatsoever. - And I learned never to assume anything about people’s position with regard to Halloween.

So it leaves us with the question, since there are a range of opinions, what ought we, as Christians, do about Halloween?

Well, when the question was asked, “What does hallowed mean? Is it like Halloween?” I said, “Actually, it is like Halloween.” - You see, to hallow is to make or to declare something or someone to be holy. We are saying to God, “Your name is holy.” - And Halloween is a form of All Hallow’s Evening, or All Hallow’s Eve; Hallowe-‘en. In other words it is the evening before All Hallow’s Day, or All Holy One’s Day, which we know as . . . All Saints’ Day. All Saints’ Day is celebrated on November 1st or the first Sunday, thereafter. - All Saints, by the way, was one of John Wesley’s favorite days.

Now, since that is the case, it should at least make Christians stop and consider a bit before we simply declare Halloween to be evil and Satanic. - But, of course there is more to the story. - So, how did Halloween come about with all of our costumes and customs?

Well, in Ireland, the ancient Druids, prior to the arrival of Christianity, marked the coming of the new year on November 1st. Like so many groups, their calendars were governed by the seasons of the year, especially the times of harvest. Around November the season would changed from the time of harvest to winter; that is, to the time when things died.

October 31st was called Samhain (often pronounced SOW-in), the Celtic word for the end of Summer. In their Pagan superstitions they believed that on October 31st, the end of the year and the beginning of the time of death, the curtain between the living and the dead became blurred. On this night, it was believed that the ghosts of the dead would return to this world.

This was their reasoning: When the dead are buried, they are buried under the ground. During the Summer months, the grass is green and alive, the flowers bloom, the trees are full of life, and they are, therefore, able to keep the dead buried. But when the trees and flowers all die, and the grass turns brown, what is there to keep the dead buried? They are, therefore, able to escape . . . at least for that one night.

Well, in addition to damaging crops, it was believed that these spirits made it easier for the Druid priests to see into the future so that they could determine whether the crops would survive the winter, etc. Therefore, they would have a ritual of sorts involving a large bonfire, burning crops and animal sacrifices while wearing disguises (like animal costumes), which would confuse and ward off any evil spirits.

Now, by the ninth-Century, as the Church spread throughout the land, the Church did what the Church has always done. It sought to appropriate and redeem, or transform and sanctify the secular or the Pagan. It sought to “redeem the time” or the day, as St. Paul says, and claim it for Christ. And here is how the Church went about it:

Early on, it was the custom of the Church to remember the Martyrs. - As early as the 4th century the Church in the East held a feast to honor all of the martyred saints, together. On May 13, 610, relics of martyrs were moved from some catacombs to the Pantheon, and the bishop of Rome, Pope Boniface IV consecrated the building with the title of the feast of All Martyrs and All Saints and Our Lady.

Now, fast forward to the ninth-Century, again, when the Church had spread throughout the Celtic land. It was in 835 that the new bishop of Rome, Pope Gregory III, designated November 1st as All Saints Day, many believe in an attempt to Christianize the Celtic holiday. Thus, Samhain became All Hallow’s Eve, or Halloween. - By the way, we also know that by A.D. 1000, there were parades and bonfires and people dressed in costumes of saints and angels, etc. in order to honor and celebrate those saints who had died in the faith.

Now, in America, the Puritan settlers didn’t want anything to do with those Pagan, and more importantly foreign customs. But, when Irish immigrants came over, in such a new setting, their customs began to take on new forms. So, any remaining Pagan elements of their customs quickly vanished. Bonfires were often replaced with candles in pumpkins. (I’ll not take time to go into the history of the Jack-O-lantern.) Animal disguises to ward off evil spirits became children’s costumes. And an American holiday was born.

So, those customs that the Church failed to transform the good ole’ American marketplace succeeded in secularizing. - Unfortunately, it has also had great success in secularizing such holy days as Christmas and Easter, as well. So much so that many Christians fail to observe the important season of Advent in preparation for Christmas, and then once Christmas Day arrives, they are ready to pack everything away; thus, failing to celebrate the twelve days of the Christmas season. Oh, how we have allowed the secular marketplace to de-Christianize us! But that’s another story for another time!

So with all of this in mind, what ought we to do with Halloween? First, respect the convictions of those around us. But, having said that, my opinion is, let the kids (and adults) have fun. And as a Church, use the opportunity to teach our children (and adults) about those who have gone before us in the faith.

Now, in our post-modern, post-Christian age, with the resurgence of various spiritualities such as Wicca and Paganism, the Pagan versions of Samhain is certainly experiencing a resurgence, at least in certain pockets of our population. Christians do need to be aware of this.  Nevertheless, I think that we who are in Christ ought to join with St. Paul and the saints throughout the ages by faithfully redeeming the time for the glory of God!

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(The article, above, is a modified reprint of my article from last year.)

1 comment:

Ellie Turney said...

THANK YOU! I've been trying to explain this to people for forever. Some people just don't care to know the truth, I guess. My grandmother despises Halloween, which makes me sad, because it's one of my favourite holidays. [After Christmas and Easter. Basically, if I get free candy, I'm good. x3] I might print this out and leave it in her mailbox. And one [or more] for my former church. I think they all could do to read it and see the real history of Halloween. :3 Thanks again for writing this. Finally, a Christian who gets it!