My most vivid memories of childhood involve Halloween. My brother and I would join our cousins walking the neighborhood to get as much candy as possible—always with the obligatory picture of all of us lined up on the couch, sweating like crazy. I loved dressing up as my favorite characters. One year I was Darth Vader, but it was so cold, and there was so much snow, I had to wear my costume over my snow pants. It didn’t take long for my thin, plastic, Vader pants to rip wide open. I wasn’t impressed. I used a piece of wood from the garage for a light saber. In my mind it shown dark red; by the end of the night it was burning in a bonfire.
Here in Northwest Iowa the Christian community has decided that Halloween is for Satanists and Lutherans. So, good Reformed Christians they are, they came up with their own party—a Hallelujah Party. Get it? Hallelujah? Halloween? Regardless, I forbid our kids to take part. Instead, we join forces with the neighbor kids to find the smattering of houses with their outside light on. That’s where the treasure is found. Funny how some pagan practices are ok (Christmas tree, anyone?) and some are not. Christians have always absorbed pagan practices and Halloween is no exception. Look it up—Halloween includes Celtic practices that celebrate the end of one year and the beginning of another (November 1). Samhain is the name of the festival celebrated the night before, the time when the old dies, the land becomes brown, making way for the new. It is a time when the boundary between the spiritual and temporal is thin, allowing those who have died to return. The Celts used to wear costumes to scare away the spirits, gathering round sacred bonfires that re-lit the family hearth, offering protection during the cold, dark, winter.
At the dedication of the Pantheon in Rome on May 13, 609 by Pope Boniface IV, the Christian feast of All Martyrs day was established in the Western Church. Later, Pope Gregory III moved it to November 1. As All Saints Day and All Hallows Eve began to mix with the pagan traditions of the Celts, and others, Halloween began to take shape. Today, it’s a time to get dressed up in costume, gorge ourselves with candy and all things pumpkin spice, and for a short while, knock on our neighbor’s doors. Funny, for all the desperation to get Christians to love their neighbors and do outreach, on the one night we might actually talk to our neighbor we take our kids to a Hallelujah party instead.
Many aspects of contemporary society are much more demonic than Halloween—greed, systems of oppression, racism and bigotry, violence and hatred just to name a few. Many of these things have made there way into so-called Christian communities with very little opposition. Dressing up like Darth Vader to spend time with my cousins on a beautiful, crisp, Autumn night? Some might think that’s a beautiful parable of the Kingdom of God.