So what is Halloween? I remember it being explained to me once by a friend, but I’d forgotten since then, so I looked up it on Wikipedia today. The Wikipedia page is really good – gives where all the symbols (such as the carving of pumpkins) have come from, and the evolution of “Halloween”, or “All Hallows Even” (the night before “All Hallows Day” / “All Saints Day”) through time.
What particularly caught my attention was the section on Christianity’s religious perspective:
Christian attitudes towards Halloween are diverse. In the Anglican Church, some dioceses have chosen to emphasize the Christian traditions of All Saints’ Day, while some other Protestants celebrate the holiday as Reformation Day, a day to remember the Protestant Reformation. Father Gabriele Amorth, a Vatican-appointed exorcist in Rome, has said, “if English and American children like to dress up as witches and devils on one night of the year that is not a problem. If it is just a game, there is no harm in that.” In more recent years, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston has organized a “Saint Fest” on the holiday. Similarly, many contemporary Protestant churches view Halloween as a fun event for children, holding events in their churches where children and their parents can dress up, play games, and get candy for free.
Many Christians ascribe no negative significance to Halloween, treating it as a purely secular holiday devoted to celebrating “imaginary spooks” and handing out candy. To these Christians, Halloween holds no threat to the spiritual lives of children: being taught about death and mortality, and the ways of the Celtic ancestors actually being a valuable life lesson and a part of many of their parishioners’ heritage. In the Roman Catholic Church, Halloween is viewed as having a Christian connection, and Halloween celebrations are common in Catholic parochial schools throughout North America and in Ireland.
Some Christians feel concerned about Halloween, and reject the holiday because they feel it trivializes – or celebrates – paganism, the occult, or other practices and cultural phenomena deemed incompatible with their beliefs. A response among some fundamentalist and conservative evangelical churches in recent years has been the use of “Hell houses”, themed pamphlets, or comic-style tracts such as those created by Jack T. Chick in order to make use of Halloween’s popularity as an opportunity for evangelism. Some consider Halloween to be completely incompatible with the Christian faith believing it to have originated as a pagan “Festival of the Dead”.
It reminded me again of the friend who explained what Halloween was to me, as she was one who took the fundamentalist approach. But, as my regular readers will be well aware, I take the liberal approach!
I’ve not been trick-or-treating this year, but me and some friends did dress up for college today (I’m the one in the middle):
So what do I make of the various Christian perspectives? Well I would get the fundamentalist angle if Halloween activity was more threatening. If it was a night of “tricks” then I wouldn’t approve. But it’s a night of “treats”! Spending time with friends, laughing, dressing up in funny outfits, and giving and receiving free candy. Sounds pretty good to me!
Last year I went trick-or-treating with an old friend from high school. He was dressed as a “chav” and I was dressed as the Devil. Yep. We had a great time. And it was my genius idea to “test” the Vicars in my town. I know where two live, so I dragged my friend Jack (who felt it was a very bad idea) to my Vicar’s house first. His wife Jilly opened the door after I pressed the bell, and she pretended to be scared and then laughed and gave us some food. I revealed myself and my Vicar came to see us and laughed too. So that went well. The trip to vicar number two (I don’t think I’ll reveal their identity here) was less successful. Maybe he wasn’t in. But I could see the flicking of a TV inside. Maybe they didn’t hear us knock. But still – I was very disappointed!
Looking back in hindsight I completely understand why my friend Jack thought it was a bad idea. I was explaining last year’s shenanigans to my friend Joi in college a few weeks ago, and she burst out laughing (she does a lot where I’m concerned – I do have some quite wacky ideas don’t I?). “So”, she said, “you trick-or-treated on your vicar, dressed as the Anti-Christ.” Hmm. Yeah…
…but it’s not like I stabbed him with a devil fork is it?! Come now evangelical Christians. It really is just a bit of fun.
AND it denounces stereotypes… me and Jack trick-or-treated on a couple living in quite a big house. The man that opened the door looked down at us in such a way that I almost thought he might have a gun hiding behind the door. He was not well-pleased. “Trick-or-treat” I said again rather weakly. He stared at us. My heart was pounding. I took off my devil mask and looked at him and said, “Sir we won’t actually trick you, we’re just having a bit of fun to see how many sweets we can get. We don’t mean to disturb you, we can just go.” He looked shocked. “You won’t actually trick us?” “No! Of course not!” He smiled (big inner sigh of relief from me, thank the merciful Jesus). “You’re nice teenagers!” the man said. “Yes!” me and Jack chorused. And off he hopped and got his wife to come along and see us (kind of felt like a circus act by this point) and he wrapped her arm round her and she gave us both some (very expensive by the looks of it) M&S chocolates from a fancy box all wrapped up. The Labrador came and gave our hands a lick, and then we said thankyou and wished one another a pleasant evening.
So Halloween can be a very positive thing! It encourages friends to laugh, it brings smiles to the little ones out after their bed-time receiving free food from anyone who will open their door, and it stops upset adults from believing every teenager who feels they are still of the age where they can get away with trick-or-treating will be rude and throw eggs at houses.
I mentioned to my friends in college that seeing as Halloween is All Hallows Even, we should celebrate All Hallows (All Saints Day) too. I suggested that tomorrow we dress up as angels or vicars or monks or nuns or something. Joi laughed. “Maybe in Uni eh?” 😀