Matters of Opinion: Hallowing Halloween
A few years back, our local Christian radio station ran a poll asking whether Halloween is spiritually harmful. The response from a predominantly evangelical audience here in Ohio was two-to-one against Halloween. This did not surprise me. It is now popular in some Christian circles to repudiate any celebration of All Hallows Eve—Halloween.
"We all know what day is coming," said a young woman in the choir of the Rhode Island church my wife and I attended when I was working on my doctorate. "And I think we need to be in prayer that the evil powers and principalities be held in check over this next weekend." Halloween fell on a Sunday that year, making the event seem all the more sinister. On the calendar of events for the Christian college where I teach, October 31 sits in a dark square with no acknowledgment that there is anything special about the date.
"It's Satan's Holiday, Dr. Rearick," affirmed one of my students. "Didn't you know?"
Well, no, I didn't know. And I am reluctant to give up what was one of the highlights of my childhood calendar to the Great Impostor and Chief of Liars for no reason except that some of his servants claim it as his.
Give up nothing
I have always considered Halloween a day to celebrate the imagination, to become for a short time something wonderful and strange, smelling of grease paint, to taste sweets that are permissible only once a year. How wonderful to be with other children dressed up as what they might grow up to be, what they wished they could be, or even what they secretly feared. All of us, dreams and nightmares, were brought together on equal footing, going from door to door to be given treats and admired for our creativity. How delightful to go to parties with doughnuts, apples, brown cider, and pumpkin cakes—and to hear spine-tingling ghost stories and feel our hearts skip a beat when the teller grabbed for us.
Now some are pressuring us to give this all up, and they use what is for some of us the most difficult argument to answer: it's the "Christian" thing to do.
Some Christians shun make-believe. Such believers feel that a young Christian's mind should never long to be in lands where little men have fuzzy feet, dragons breathe fire, and horses have wings. Instead, they maintain that a Christian should be caught up in the here and now of the "real" world. Defending the reality of fiction and the value of fantasy requires an entirely different essay.
Christians certainly may be leery of sharing anything with modern pagans and Satanists who claim Halloween as theirs. But who gave these individuals the right to claim the holiday? If they are Druids, they are celebrating Samhain, which is not Halloween but an even older holiday. As for Satanists, their calendar is a perversion of Christian seasons—there would be no Satanists if there were no Christians. Let them claim all they want. I give them nothing.
"But look at the roots of Halloween," some may say. "Don't you see how evil it once was?" I do, but the operative word in that sentence is was. Samhain was once a time of fear and dread, but at one time so was Yule or Midvinterblot, as it was called in Sweden. Toward the time of the winter solstice, the days became shorter and colder. The land was laid waste. In pagan times, to keep the fire of the life-giving sun alight, people often made sacrifices before a great oak tree. Boniface is supposed to have stopped one such sacrifice and instituted the indoor Christmas tree at the same time. The burning of such logs in the midst of sacrifice has come down to us as the traditions of burning Yule logs and enjoying Christmas trees.