I loved Halloween when I was a child. With the help of your parent you would try and come up with a unique costume. While I gazed longingly at the ready made store bought costumes, my parents (who were good stewards of their money) were always helpful in creating unique outfits. You could dress up like a clown, construction worker, hobo, and yes I’ll admit it, one year I even dressed up like a girl. Because I lived on a farm my parents would drive my siblings and I around the countryside going from house to house. It was celebrative, communal and the only time of the year that I got boxes of Cracker Jacks and Kit Kat bars.
But what I don’t remember is the celebration of darkness, fear and death. Sure there were some kids who put on witches hats or wore a bed sheet and called themselves a ghost, but there wasn’t an obsession with covering the front lawn with tombstones or making your front doorway a blood filled scene from the latest horror movie. It may be that my parents had an easier time shielding this activity from me because we lived on a farm or it may just be that my memory is skewed, but it feels to me like something has changed. I do remember older teenagers egging homes and such so I won’t claim that those were more innocent times, but I would still argue that the scales have tipped to emphasize the dark side of life and call it fun.
The history of Halloween is mixed depending on which version you read. The Christian history of the event is the celebration of All Hallows Eve (‘Hallow E’en’ is Irish), the night before ‘All Saints’ day where all the departed Christian Saints are remembered and celebrated. You might argue that yes, Christians were celebrating the dead, but not gore, darkness and fear. Some attribute the celebration of death and gore to the pre-Christian pagan festivals held at the end of the harvest. But if you look deeper into some of these pagan Halloween practices, they were ‘fire festivals’ and winter solstice gatherings. We see then that even many of the non-Christian practices of Halloween were not celebrations of blood and violence.
I confess that I feel troubled and conflicted with what Halloween seems to celebrate today. As a Christian, death is not something to fear, death is a reality that we all must face. But the Christian message is that in the end God wins and that even the darkest of evil forces, which lead to death, cannot match the power of God. What gets celebrated in Christianity is life. As Jesus says in the gospel of John,
“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. (John 10:10)
I don’t want to celebrate and make merriment over the darkness of death and am often troubled by those who seem to take death so lightly; it is an affront to the way things are supposed to be.
My hope this Halloween for all of us is threefold: May we contemplate what it is we are celebrating, consider how it might be molding our children and may we together find a way to enjoy each other’s creativity, imagination, and presentation in an atmosphere of communal generosity.
Note: This article was first published in the Alberni Valley Times, October 28, 2011