24 October 2012

Halloween

Halloween is upon us again. But what is behind it? What are it's origins? We take a look at this autumn festival and see that under the surface it's a curious mix of pagan and early church thinking and tradition.

A traditional Irish celebration of Halloween
It's that time of year again. Small children will be 'trick or treating' - knocking on doors or ringing doorbells and demanding treats. If adults did the same it would be called 'making a demand with menaces'!

I don't wish to spoil anyone's fun, but where does this strange custom come from? Few people today will really know what Halloween is all about.

A little story - Earlier today I was passing some houses in the town when I heard someone calling. When I looked I saw a mum with two girls, they had a table set out, laden with various kinds of cakes decorated with worms and other seasonal designs. They explained that they were selling these Halloween cakes to raise money for a cancer charity - a really worthy cause.

I bought a square of chocolate cake with a 'bloodworm' on top (a length of strawberry lace) and on my way to the Co-op I thought about the combination of Halloween and a charity collection.

Church and pagan festivals - Halloween used to be written Hallowe'en which is a shortened form of 'All Hallows Evening' or, in modern speak, 'Holy evening'. It's the evening before 'All Saints Day' so it was also known as All Saints Eve'. It's probably a combination of an ancient harvest feast with a festival of the dead, rooted in the pagan British and Gaulish festival of Samhain. We don't know for sure, but the ghoulish aspects of Halloween probably spring from these roots.

The early church adopted the date and many of the traditions but gave the annual event a new name and purpose as part of the church calendar. This is how they handled other inconvenient pagan festivals too. The celebrations of the shortest day and new year became Christmas, the fertility festival with it's egg traditions became Pasch or Easter, a time of renewed life.

Recently the Halloween festival has been imported to England from the USA, but they in turn had it from the Irish and Scots in the nineteenth century.

Problems - Reusing pagan festivals and traditions may have been convenient, but it has brought a great deal of confusing baggage into church life. Personally, I feel it was a major mistake. Part of this confusion is the modern Halloween, now a thoroughly secular  annual event.

The trouble with that is that the spooks and witches and monsters are based on dark, spiritual powers that are best avoided altogether, even in play. The world may pooh-pooh such a view and regard me as foolish and a superstitious spoil-sport. So be it.

I prefer to have as little as possible to do with all false traditions and pagan origins. I know that Jesus was born, died and rose again. I know there are spiritual forces of both light and darkness and I know that light always banishes darkness, not the other way around. For me, these truths are enough, I don't want the pagan and worldly add-ons.

How to deal with it - To the extent that these events have become secular I cannot avoid them. And although I don't want to spoil anyone's fun, especially for children, I hold them lightly and as much at arm's length as is possible. I'm happy to give presents to my grandchildren, but they're from me - not from Father Christmas. And sometimes I send cards, but only to offer people peace and wholeness in the coming year.

Halloween may be fun, but I don't like the platform it stands on or the traditions it involves. But making and selling cakes to support a charity is a good effort and I will always do what I can to support and encourage things like that. Well done!

What are your thoughts and feelings about Halloween? Do you like it, hate it, tolerate it, or feel indifferent? Why?

See also: 3 reasons Christians must celebrate Halloween

2 comments:

  1. Great post. I really like how you brought in the historical background to Halloween. I thought about doing that on my post, but ended up not. Thanks for including it here!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks Jeremy. I've decided to begin posting links to closely related articles whenever I come across them. I think this will be more useful to my readers than a blog roll, though I'll continue with that as well.

    The more we can interlink our blogs in useful ways, the more benefit readers will get. And many readers will benefit from the chance to read your post :-)

    ReplyDelete

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