31 October 2017

Trick or Treat?

Some of my best childhood years were lived up state New York, a magical place of white Christmas’, thanksgiving turkeys, Autumn leaves and trick or treat - the yanks really do holidays well. Halloween in that context was one of the most exciting times of the year. Each year we’d hollow out the pumpkin for the jack o lantern and dress up as ghosts or other characters. Then we’d go house to house with our bags, expectant of a great haul of assorted sweets. And oh did we clean up! Parents today would be horrified by the amount of sugar consumed in the next few weeks. If I get diabetes one day, I’ll blame those years in America. There, Halloween made sense, it was fun and there was nothing perceivably dark about it. Here, Halloween seems odd, a blatant attempt at selling confectionary and cheap costumes.

But Halloween must be getting some traction because even Aldi had a Halloween sale a few weeks back and my local Coles rolled in a giant pallet of Halloween pumpkins which have all since been sold.

Are we being Americanized? Are we participating in a pagan festival? Are we identifying with evil, or at least the evils of commercialism? Well, if we take that approach then Christmas and Easter should also be out because there is a lot of commercialism, and one or two pagan elements there too. And if we are uptight about themes of magic or witches, then best not read Tolken or CS Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia either.

Halloween’s meaning depends on your perspective but doesn’t really have any clarity in most people’s minds because it’s a foreign concept to the majority of Australians. There are Christian roots in All Hallows’ Eve, conceived in the 9thc, which celebrated or “hallowed” all the saints and martyrs on November 1st (all Saints day). This was preceded the night before with a vigil of liturgical ceremonies and prayers. Interestingly popular culture today has substituted the celebration of Christian saints and martyrs with spooky ghosts, zombies and themes of death but its origins are actually more in celebration of the resurrection of the dead.

The pagan roots of Halloween are really vague. Seasonal harvest festivals in Europe and the British Isles’ developed independently and had their own mythologies around preparation for a northern hemisphere winter, a symbol of death. As Ross Clifford in his book Taboo or To Do writes that in modern times neo-Pagan witchcraft groups celebrate October 31 as one of their eight major festivals in their ritual calendar, which together form the “Wheel of the Year myth”. Fascinatingly the wheel of the year myth concerns a virgin goddess carrying a child of promise who grows up to fight the power of the Dark Lord of the underworld. This child dies and rises again. Now if that isn’t a conversation starter, I don’t know what is!

Halloween is a convoluted mix of beliefs around seasons and harvest food, death and the dead, sprinkled with a lot of secular commercialism. Tonight is Halloween and if you live in a busy street, you may have some visitors come knocking. So will you shut the blinds and act like no ones home, or open the door and start a conversation? What other time in the year do neighbours knock on each other’s doors and give gifts to one another? Yes, Halloween has some dark connotations, but perhaps, instead of being the killjoys of the neighborhood, we can redeem the moment. We could use it as a way of connecting with people, sharing the back-story of Halloween, and pointing to the best story of how God loves us and delivers us from the evil one.

Paul says in 1 Corinthians 9:21-23 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel that I may share in its blessings.