We got back from our holiday on Saturday night to the horror that is Hallowe’en. A posse of our kids’ school friends and their parents were out and about visiting the neighbourhood. On the way back from holiday, I read that the Vatican had weighed in on the matter. The Times has the story here. I have to say that I agree with much of what they are reported to have said. Good on them for saying the unwelcome things.
Here are my thoughts on this event. They’re offered as a starting point in an ongoing discussion. I wish I’d posted this last week. But I was on holiday and it was fabulous!
1. Halloween is commercially significant
In the US it’s the second most popular holiday and it generates 4-6 Billion Dollars in revenue. In the UK it’s the third behind Christmas and Easter. Father Christmas and the Easter Bunny are holding Buffy the Vampire Slayer at bay for the moment. But not for long.
2. Halloween is historically significant
The origins of Halloween date back over 2000 years to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain [sow-in], a word that means ‘the end of summer’. This festival celebrated the end of harvest and the beginning of the Celtic New Year on November 1st. By 43AD the Roman Empire had conquered most of the Celtic regions and in the following 400 years the Roman festival of Feralia was incorporated into it. This day was in late October, when the Romans commemorated the passing of the dead. By the 800s Christianity had spread into Celtic lands. In the 8th century Pope Boniface IV designated November 1st All Saints’ Day to honour those saints that didn’t have a special day of their own. You wouldn’t want anyone to feel left out! The Pope hoped to put a Christian spin on the pagan Celtic festival with a church-sponsored holiday. It had worked with Christmas. Over the years the festival became known as All Hallows and the night before was known as All Hallows Eve or Hallowe’en.
3. Halloween is spiritually significant
I know I’ll be tarnished with a fundamentalist label but I’ve got issues with Hallowe’en. And I think they’re legitimate. But I’m not about to mount a campaign. I’ve got three main issues with Hallowe’en.
i. Halloween has become a time when wickedness is domesticated
I think the Bible allows a place for imagination. I think it has a place for pretence. And I don’t think it has an issue with fantasy. But Halloween allows elements from the dark side of spirituality to be accepted in mainstream culture. It’s become a holiday of cultural fascination with evil and the demonic. Evil is portrayed as innocent and fun. And it’s neither. We need to remember the wickedness of evil. The devil and his demons are real. We have a real spiritual adversary who seeks our destruction. If we belong to Christ by faith then we have nothing to fear from an enemy that he’s already defeated. But nevertheless wickedness and evil ought to be exposed, opposed and loathed. But our approach may actually be encouraging others to mock something that’s deadly serious. It may also encourage a fascination with something that’s enslaving and ultimately damaging. I want no part of that.
ii. Halloween has become a time when we celebrate what scares us
Out of love for the vulnerable, particularly children we ought to protect them from things that frighten them. Walking into WH Smiths to be confronted by hairy spiders, a witch’s mask and a giant bat is not most young children’s idea of fun. As anyone who’s had chidlren wake up in the middle of the night with bad dreams will tell you, images remain in children’s memories. And they come out at night to scare them. And it’s not fun. Our films have classification guidelines that allow parents the freedom to make a decision. But no such restraint is exercised at this time of the year. We may be strong enough to cope with the associations with evil without being tainted. And we may be brave enough to cope with the frightening images. But not everyone is. And as Christians we should therefore limit our freedom in love for others.
iii. Halloween has become a time when we teach our children that extortion is acceptable
Let me rant for a moment. Trick or treat is extortion. We encourage our kids to go around as a gang, knock on people’s doors and give them a choice between a rock and a hard place. It’s either ‘give me a treat’ or ‘I give you a trick’. That’s organised crime.
Rather than celebrate wickedness we encouraged our family to celebrate Jesus’ victory over wickedness, evil and the devil [Colossians 2:15].