“When I dressed up as a child for Halloween, I was captivated by the fantasy, and as I have written recently, the fantasy for me served to provide a glimpse of the divine behind creation. Though I respect parents who decide not to allow their children to participate in Halloween activities due to issues of conscience, that's not a decision I feel comfortable making for my children. I would hate to deprive them of something of the mystery and "magic" of childhood, something that could well provide a step into trusting the Creator.” – Igneous Quill Blog
“At Halloween our modern cultural rituals are a dim reflection of the historical practice of connecting with and honoring those who have come before. We lost the true meaning, but keep the trappings in hopes that we can connect in some way to something bigger than ourselves. We bring out the ghosts, jack-o-lanterns, and black cats not understanding what they mean, but longing nonetheless to grasp hold of a fleeting glimpse of the mysterious. We watch horror movies in hopes that fear, as raw and intense of an emotion as it is, will at least make us feel something beyond ourselves.” – Julie Clawson’s blog
“It is a world of magic and mystery, of deep darkness and flickering starlight. It is a world where terrible things happen and wonderful things too. It is a world where goodness is pitted against evil, love against hate, order against chaos, in a great struggle where often it is hard to be sure who belongs to which side because appearances are endlessly deceptive. Yet for all its confusion and wildness, it is a world where the battle goes ultimately to the good, who live happily ever after, and where in the long run everybody, good and evil alike, becomes known by his true name…That is the fairy tale of the Gospel with, of course, one crucial difference from all other fairy tales, which is that the claim made for it is true, that it not only happened once upon a time but has kept on happening ever since and is happening still.” – Frederick Buechner
So, here’s the deal: I’ve always loved Halloween… That’s right I’ve said it. It’s something I normally don’t admit to. I always felt sort of guilty about it, but it’s the truth. I really have always loved Halloween. And I think that these quotes sort of hint at why I liked it. Because more so than most other holidays Halloween touches on the mysterious, the fanciful, and yes, the dark.
There is ritual in it more so than most other holidays and that ritual is mysterious. And I like that. I think there is something in the human psyche that longs for an experience of the Other, that which is entirely different and unexplainable and mysterious. The church (especially the modern church) doesn’t offer those types of experiences at least not very often. I guess we have a small handful of rituals that get practiced in the church but they have lost most of their meaning and most of their dark mystery and otherness. I think I’m drawn to Halloween because there is something about it that somehow feels mysterious and Other…sure it’s mostly just costumes and candy. But, I think there have been moments where this holiday held something transcendent for me, moments where even in my own life the deeper roots of All Souls day came out.
Also, I think there is something in the human psyche that is curious about death…death scares us AND woos us. We feel deeply that this life can’t be all there is, that we were made for something more. We were created for eternity and somehow whether we admit that or not we feel that... we experience longing. Surely, He did put eternity in the hearts of men.
So, maybe I am drawn to Halloween because somewhere at its core Halloween is also about death. It’s about recognizing death. We fear death and so in our fear we dream up ghouls and goblins and zombies but really we are just acknowledging our ignorance. We are curious so we create and explore. We grieve death, we want to know that our loved ones are still around that they haven’t just disappeared from the earth all together so we (in our somewhat demented way) celebrate spirits and ghosts and at the same time as fearing them sort of secretly hope that they exist…secretly hope that our loved ones aren’t just decaying in the grave but that the most sacred and important part of them, their soul lives on.
The original idea of having a day for the dead doesn’t seem pagan or evil to me, it seems human, natural, and even healthy. To have a day to acknowledge and celebrate and grieve for those who have passed on and to pray and hope that something of them still exists in the world…well, that seems right to me. Maybe dressing up in costumes and passing out candy is a silly way to do that but it’s the closest thing we have in American western society to experiencing the mysterious, dark side of life and death.
You may say, “Well that’s all well and good but what about the evil side of Halloween, isn’t Halloween celebrating evil?” I’ve heard this from Christians before, and while, honestly, I think most people who celebrate Halloween aren’t celebrating evil, I think there are those who celebrate Halloween in a way that can be evil, sick, and deformed (member the razorblades in candy). But, here’s my thinking, and maybe this sounds weird or wrong, but I like being reminded occasionally that there is evil in the world. Yeah, I know it sounds crazy. But, I like knowing that we have an enemy to fight – it’s inspiring. It gives purpose and calling. And no I don’t think that the evil I need to fight is Halloween or my neighbor who may love dressing up as a bloody zombie. But, there ARE great evils in the world, great injustices, great pain, great wrongs, great poverty, and great meanness and these we are called to combat.
Often in this world our enemy seems hidden or covert but in horror movies, or fantasy movies or fairy tales the evil is evident and clear. Good is pitted against evil and good always wins. Love is pitted against Hate and Love wins. God is pitted against the devil and God wins.
Another reason I like Halloween is the same reason I like fantasy stories and fairy tales because it reminds me in very clear black and white, good vs. evil language of the battle we are all a part of. Things get really hazy and unclear and grey in this world we live in and sometimes it’s nice to imagine that it is all a little clearer. Anyway, those are my thoughts on Halloween.
Really, though I feel like there’s a question I’m left with after all these thoughts… is there a way that the church could better step into this holiday – not just avoiding it all together, and not just by making it “safe” like with the Harvest Festivals that are now so common at American Churches…is there a way for us to keep the darkness and mystery, celebrate and grieve the dead, and recognize that we do not live in a perfect-pretty-in-pink-happy-ever-after-world (yet) we live in a fallen, dark world where evil abounds, but we are called to something higher. We are called to combat that which is truly evil. We are called to Love.
Is there a way to embrace the ritual and bring meaning? I’d love to hear your thoughts. And if you disagree with what I’m thinking about or are confused by some of it by all means please push back and tell me why.
- Alan Knox at The Assembling of the Church just re-posted his Halloween blog from last year. There are some great thoughts there and it’s well worth the read.
- Julie Clawson wrote Rejection, Redemption, and Roots: A Dialogue about Christianity and Paganism a little over a year ago, but it’s still a great read. It isn’t specifically about Halloween but I think it has a lot to say that could relate to how we treat Halloween.
Rejoicing in the journey -