From the Ridiculous to the Sublime

It’s that time of year again. You know, when all the Hallowe’en gear starts appearing in every shop. My children ask whether they can join in. I say no, and explain why. Again. Here in the UK Hallowe’en is a combination of an old, rather dark tradition with 21st century consumerism, as copied from the US.

When I was a child Hallowe’en was a bit of a nonentity. Bonfire Night on 5th November was the big, fun celebration. Hallowe’en was never really an issue one way or the other. There was certainly no expectation of trick or treating. It was something a very few, odd children did, only to be shooed away by a stern, “No thank you!” from my mother followed by an immediate shutting of the door (much the same as when the Jehovah’s Witnesses came knocking). But it’s different now. Hallowe’en and Bonfire Night are a kind of extended festival. I have no problem celebrating the prevention of an act of terrorism in 1605, though I do take issue with the burning of effigies resembling Guy Fawkes or anyone else. That’s all a bit too pagan for me, personally.

So where does the 21st century British Christian stand when it comes to Hallowe’en? Do we ban it with a single stroke? Or do we allow our children to join in because ‘it’s just a bit of fun’ and we don’t want them to be singled out at school? I have never felt comfortable with either of these responses. I do believe that, whatever its origins and circuitous routes through the ages and various belief systems, the modern celebration is a celebration of darkness and scary stuff. And that doesn’t sit right with me. There are so many more things in our culture and in our world for us to be afraid of than ghosts and witches! I do talk about those things quite candidly with my family, and we also discuss what our response should be to the horrors of the world, as followers of Christ. My children know that life is not easy, it is rarely fair and it takes courage to stand up for what is right.

Last year I had a bit of an epiphany when it came to Hallowe’en, after viewing this video:

We bought party bags and filled them with sweets, as well as some lovely little leaflets from The Good Book Company: (see below). We handed them out when the mini ghosts and ghouls came knocking, and we talked (among ourselves) about how, when we know Jesus, we celebrate every day the light that shatters the darkness.

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has never put it out.

John 1:5 (GNT)

“I am the light of the world,” Jesus said.

“Whoever follows me will have the light of life and will never walk in darkness.”

 John 8:12 (GNT)

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It turns out that, just like everything else, Christ turns our expectations and understandings on their head! It is not the darkness we celebrate, but the victory over darkness that has already been won. This is why, in just a few weeks time, Christians all over the world will begin the season known as ‘Advent’ – the quiet waiting for the birth of the Light, promised so long ago by the prophet:

The people who walked in darkness
    have seen a great light.
They lived in a land of shadows,
    but now light is shining on them…

He will be called, “Wonderful Counselor,”
    “Mighty God,” “Eternal Father,”
    “Prince of Peace.”

Isaiah 9:2,6 (GNT)

2 thoughts on “From the Ridiculous to the Sublime

  1. Where I live in the Bible Belt, lots of churches hold a fall festival, where the kids go “trunk or treating” (car trunks are decorated with a “theme” and the car owners hand out candy from them) and dress up (at their parents’ discretion, and never in scary costumes). There are lots of blowup bouncy rides, food, and clean fun. It’s billed as a “Halloween alternative.” Sometimes we go, sometimes not. (It can be a bit overstimulating and noisy.)

    I went to a Presbyterian high school. They never celebrated Halloween, of course, but the day after is Reformation Day (when Martin Luther nailed the 95 theses on the door of the Wittenburg church, I think), so we always had to celebrate that. No candy, no costumes, just a chapel service about the necessity of the Reformation, etc. Not exactly fun.

    Celebrating Halloween has never quite sat well with me, either. I never liked dressing up or the scary costumes; my mom would have to carry me through certain stores in October because the creepy costume displays frightened me too much. My husband and I have debated about our children trick-or-treating, and finally settled on letting them dress up and go with a few neighbor children (and one of us, of course) to a few houses and get some candy. Here, Halloween has been ripped out of the celebrate-the-darkness context (thanks to the prevalence of fall festivals and church influence) and is now sanitized to being about costumes and candy. It’s not that way in other parts of the country, though.

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