I thought this was an interesting reflection on the worldview that underlies Halloween, and the importance of celebrating All Saints & All Souls days following. I will admit to having been majorly put off by most contemporary Christian attempts to somehow “deal” with Halloween (Hell houses anyone?) that reveal nothing so much as an ignorance of our own history and deep seated fears of death:
As a friend of mine observed recently, there is something medieval about Halloween. The masks, the running around in the dark, the flicker of candles in pumpkins, the smell of leaves and cold air—all of it feels ancient, even primal, somehow. Despite the now-inevitable preponderance of media-inspired costumes, Halloween seems, in execution, far closer to a Last Judgment scene above a medieval church door, or to a mystery play, than it does to Wal-Mart. To step outside on Halloween dressed as someone—or something—other than yourself is to step into a narrative that acknowledges that the membrane between our workaday, material world and the unseen realm of spirits is far thinner and more permeable than many of us like to think.
This narrative disturbs a lot of people, as the proliferation of church-sponsored “autumn festivals” and “trunk-or-treat” parties suggests. To some of those who worry about it, Halloween is either a thoroughly secular or a thoroughly pagan observance, to be avoided by serious Christians. In the Halloween aisle at Dollar Tree, you’ll certainly be hard-pressed to find anything remotely Christian on offer, unless you count glow-in-the-dark skeletons and black plastic skulls as memento mori designed to remind you that you are not Darth Maul, but dust.
The secular commercialization of Halloween bothers people far less than do its roots in the pagan Celtic festival of Samhain, which the Romans, after the conquest of Britain, eventually conflated with their own Feralia, a feast honoring the dead. When, in the seventh century, Pope Boniface IV instituted the feast of All Saints, to fall on the first of November, the eve of that solemnity coincided with the date of the ancient festival. The addition of the feast of All Souls in the eleventh century completed the three-day Hallowmas, dedicated to the memory of the Christian martyrs and honoring all the faithful departed.
Update: There’s also a good post up at the Mockingbird Blog relating to Halloween, and responses to it:
What has interested me about Halloween is its intersection with culture, and especially Christianity. Growing up in the church, I’ve seen churches attempt to do all kinds of things with Halloween, from ignoring it completely to throwing elaborate competing “Harvest Festivals.” My favorite Christian/Halloween story comes out of Eden Christian Academy of Pittsburgh, PA (slogan: Pretending People are Perfect since 1983). A dear friend worked as a teacher there, and experienced this first-hand. Presented with the problem of what to do about Halloween one year, the faculty went back and forth: Use it as a teaching moment to communicate about the occult? Embrace what has become a harmless evening of candy-getting rather than a celebration of pagan ritual? Of course not. So afraid were they of dealing with the Halloween “problem,” they did the least productive thing they could have: They cancelled school.