Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Halloween: Who's Holiday?

Time for Grendel to mount the old soapbox again. Today's topic, Halloween. In the continuing tradition of the Enemy's plan to keep us infighting about insignificant points of dogma while ignoring the larger picture (remember Jesus telling the Pharisees that they "strain at a gnat and swallow a camel?"), Halloween and it's meaning is a molehill that's been turned into a mountain.

To gain some perspective on this topic, a bit of history is useful. Halloween is actually a contraction of "All Hallow's Eve," referring to the fact that it is the night before All Saint's Day. The roots of the traditions associated with Halloween go farther back in history, to the Gaelic tradition called "Samhain." The Catholic Church sought to supplant pagan holidays by arranging "holy days" during the same time-frame as the pagan festivals they were supposed to take the place of (for example, Easter gets it's name from "Eastre," the Anglo-Saxon goddess of Spring). The festival of Samhain had several elements: it was believed that on that day, the barrier between the physical and spiritual world was thin, allowing spirits--harmless and harmful--to travel more easily into the material world; it was a time to celebrate the harvest, usually with feasts and bonfires; and it was a time to remember the dead, memorialize those who had passed. The origin of costumes is believed to originate with the practice of dressing up in disguise to confuse or thwart harmful spirits. While it's true that Samhain had some dark roots, it was also considered a tradition to mark the transition between the "light seasons" and the "dark seasons," and thus was also regarded as a sort of New Year. As with most holidays that were "morphed" by the Catholic church, it kept many of the trappings of the pagan festival, blending them with symbolism and associations with the church, a process known as synchretism. For more details about the history of Samhain and Halloween, is a useful starting-point.

In modern times, there has been a movement in some churches and denominations to do away with Halloween, calling it "the Devil's Holiday." This is, in my opinion, a superstition that harks back to the ancient Gaelic Samhain, as if there was a single day in the year that Satan and his minions have more access to the world. Granted, there are certain things associated with Halloween that might be considered dark or dangerous (particularly to those who are weak in the faith), making a big deal out of these things only draws more attention to them. Like Paul, i believe that nothing in and of itself is necessarily evil, but how we treat it and think of it can bring about evil. Also like Paul, i believe that there's nothing inherently wrong in regarding certain days as special, or in thinking that every day is pretty much like any other day. By regarding Halloween as "the Devil's Holiday," many Christians are infused with an unnecessary superstitious dread, and it also generates a "counter-reactionary" movement by people who are by nature rebellious or inimical to the Christian faith. Often, when Christians are too quick to condemn something they disagree with as a point of dogma, or through a misunderstanding, individuals who are inimical to the Faith adopt that very thing as a symbol. When Jerry Falwell announced that the purple Teletubbie was a symbol of homosexuality to "normalize" it to preschool-age kids (the triangle symbol on it's "antenna," the color, and the fact that it carried a "purse"), it was pure hogwash . . . but a number of people in the gay community adopted it as a symbol. If you walk around telling people that Halloween is "the Devil's Holiday" (and making a big deal out of "not practicing it"), you're drawing attention to it. It's very similar to the movement to do away with rock-n-roll, because it was "the Devil's Music." I remember one incident in the late 80's when the Christian rock band Stryper had gained some mainstream popularity: my job at the time was at a place where most of my co-workers were what i call "politichristians"(in spite of the fact that some of the jokes that were told were racist, sexist, and often decidedly raunchy), and the topic of Christian rock-bands was being discussed. One girl said that Stryper's style of dress, hairstyles, etc., were not "of Jesus." This was one of the few times i verbally countered what i thought of as ignorance, telling her, "I think Jesus looks on the inside, and if these guys are practicing what they preach and reaching young people in a way that hymns written in the Victorian Era can't, then they're doing God's work. Even Jesus said "if he's not against us, he's for us." The look of fearful perplexity on her face is one i've come to know well, an expression that pretty much says, "How dare you say such things? If you're a Christian, you should agree with ME." At any rate (pardon the digression), i see much of this in the hullaballoo about Halloween. GET OVER IT.

Here's my take: if you don't want to celebrate Halloween, don't. Don't give away candy, decorate your house, or participate in any Halloween festivities. A cynical part of me says that Halloween--like most other holidays--has been transformed into a day where the corporate world rakes in more cash than usual (the place that i worked--an electrical supply company--might have been anti-Halloween, but if their sales went up because of people decorating for Halloween, they wouldn't have turned down any of the cash appropriated by it). Most holidays now are more rituals to celebrate Mammon for the corporate world at large, so if you're going to protest a holiday, that's a better reason than some empty superstition. If you want to celebrate Halloween, but some of the trappings make you uncomfortable, there's nothing wrong with having a Fall Harvest festival, celebrated with feasts, bonfires, and the like. Autumn has always been a favorite time of year for me, mainly because (as i have discussed before in this blog) of the beauty shown in Nature during that time. Some types of fruit don't taste good until the first frost hits; other types don't come into full ripeness until October. If you don't have a problem with Halloween at all, seeing it as a time mostly for kids (of all ages) to play "dress-up," and go "trick-or-treating," that's pretty much okay, too--but if you have friends who are troubled by some of the elements of Halloween, make sure you're being considerate of their feelings. Just like you wouldn't invite vegetarian friends to a barbecue, or Jewish or Islamic friends to a pig roast, don't invite your more conservative friends to a Halloween party. As far as costumes go, there are plenty of costumes and masquerades that don't have anything to do with devils, ghosts, witches, or monsters--go as your favorite historical figure, Star Wars character, or animal. To me, focusing too much on the whole idea of Halloween as a "bad holiday" smacks of religiosity, an empty thing done more for appearance's sake than for any true conviction. Of course, you MUST follow your convictions as a Christian, and if you test those convictions and still find that the idea of the holiday troubles you, then don't celebrate it, and avoid it.

In reality, those of us who worship Christ should regard EVERY day as special day, another day in which to revel in the joy of knowing Christ, of seeing the hand of God in the Natural world and in the way unobtrusive miracles occur every minute, whether in October, April, or any other month. The world, the fullness thereof, and every day on every calendar page ever printed belongs to God. Stop your infantile squabbling and live each and every moment to God's glory.

No comments: