Monday, November 1, 2010

Mutually Exclusive: Notions of Halloween

    First let me say that I am no expert. I've read several books and have studied enough on the subject to satisfy my own mind, but am quite sure I've only scratched the surface.

1. Knowledge is Power

It all started with the Celtic festival of Samhain (Summer's End).
The Celts only observed two seasons; summer and winter. Sometime around November, they would bring the finest of their herds into shelter. The rest would be slaughtered for a feast.

This marked the start of what they called the "dark" time. Nights were longer, darkness fell early, and this time of year was thought to belong to the spirits. It was believed that spirits and demons alike roamed freely during this time. The people took to dressing as ghouls in the belief that malicious spirits would take them as one of their own and pass on by.
Families would lay out food offerings in their homes in the hopes that departed loved ones would drop by for a visit.
Since this time also marked the Celtic new year, people would pay their debts, renew leases, buy land and trade livestock.

Samhain also represented one of the Fire Festivals. The Celts noticed the sun growing weaker in the winter months and feared it would leave forever. They would light bonfires on hilltops in an attempt to "rekindle" the sun.
Yeah, that'll work.

Enter the conquering Romans.

Samhain begat the Roman Festival of Pamona;
The Roman Festival of Pamona begat All Saints/Souls Day;
All Saints/Souls Day begat Martin Luther and the 95 Theses;
Martin Luther and the 95 Theses begat the Reformation;
The Reformation begat Guy Fawkes Day. . .
And so it went.

Fledgling colonies begin in the new world.

Massachussetts, New Hampshire and Connecticut settled by rigid Puritans tried to kill the holiday all together.
Rhode Island and New York championed religious freedom and celebrated many different styles of the festival.
Yada, Yada, Yada. . . the colonies were inhabited by Dutch German, Swiss, Africans, Native Americans, Catholics and Anglicans. The Holiday became a mish-mash of traditions and customs.

So, Halloween has it's roots in Celtic Samhain and the christian All Saints Day.
Today it is predominantly a secular holiday.

2. Ignorance is bliss

I remember as a kid having a blast on Halloween! What kid doesn't love to play dress-up? And then of course there's the candy!
Some years were spent Trick-or-Treating house to house. Some years the churches would have hayrides or bonfires or Fall Festivals of some kind.
I even remember a few spook houses made up in the basements of churches. Say it ain't so!!!

Not once in all my growing did I consider ritual or religion when choosing a costume or handing out candy.

I remember laughing kids and smiling parents. A cool crispness to the air and the crunch of fallen leaves under foot.
I remember costume contests for the little and pie eating  for the big. Roasting hot dogs and telling stories at the bonfires, and being giddy beyond belief when a cute boy wanted to sit next to me on the hayride home.

Then we grew up. And got more smarterer. And realized that there is a meaning behind everything. And when we find that meaning, all the innocent fun goes out the window.

It's exhausting, isn't it, trying to decide where to draw the line?

Take books for example.
*Chronicles of Narnia has witches and mythical creatures and magic. It's a moral tale of good versus evil. It's ok because it was written by a christian.
*Harry Potter has witches and mythical creatures and magic. It's a moral tale of good versus evil.
It's bad! Evil! Stay away!
*Lord of The Rings has witches and mythical creatures and magic. It's a moral tale of good versus evil.
It's ok because it was written by a christian.

Seriously? So when my kids ask why they can't dress up and  wear make-up and rake in the candy, I have to say, "Well, you see, thousands of years ago there were these nut jobs . . .".

Now please understand, I would never presume to judge another's ideals. But - my blog, my soapbox.

Our pastor talks about two kinds of issues.
Ones that are open handed - things that Christians can agree to disagree on sometimes without sin or eternal consequence.
The others are closed handed issues - things that are at the very core of our beliefs and should never be compromised or ignored.

Halloween is one of those open handed issues.

Joey and I have run the gamut with this and have finally reached a peace about it.
-We do not celebrate Samhain. We do not practice divination. We do not burn sacrifices.
-We do not celebrate All Saints Day. As much as I love my family that has already crossed over, no amount of praying or baking "Soul Cakes" is going to help them at this point.
-We celebrate Secular Halloween. We dress in silly costumes and go out in public. We tell age appropriate ghost stories because our girls are at that "love to be scared" stage. We jump out of closets and yell "Boo!". We watch old scary black and white movies, and the girls watch the Michael Jackson 'Thriller' video. We carve pumpkins.

Because it's fun!!!


  1. Ang, You did a lot of research, more than I have done lately on this particular subject. What strikes me is that it so much more assuring to come to a place of peace about how we approach something. Many have ideas and judgments that go from ultra liberal to ultra legalistic only based on what someone else says, or flowing from preconseived notions. Cuddos for a great little research paper, and doing something else a lot of others do not do... and that is to think and research, and pray about a thing for themselves.


  2. Thanks so much for your post Angie!

    I love the part about the open-handed and closed-handed issues. This cleared so much up for me. I've never felt convicted to stop participating in Halloween, but I can also understand those who do.
    But I have to say that at times when talking to other Christians who don't participate, I have felt a twinge of guilt....I guess that came from not doing my own research and having a shaky foundation which I was standing on. You have really helped clear some stuff up for me!

    So glad I could glean off of your hard work and knowledge! I'm feeling the POWER!!

    BTW, your girls look adorable!

    Take care!

  3. Hey, Ang,
    Super job! Last Sunday in my continuing sermon on Revelation, I was dealing with the the 5th trumpet in chapter 9, and in light of the really "halloweenish" descriptions that John writes in his vision, I determined to do an introduction on the background of Halloween, since it was HALLOWEEN. You and I studied the same material! And pretty much came to the same conclusion. Good job! It will preach! The people indicated that they were appreciative of the information, and it certainly did set the stage for that which definitely no one wants to be present to celebrate - PTL, the Lord's church will be with Him during that period!

    Again, good stuff - the kids are cute!