The following is by Dennis Patrick, my father-in-law. Dennis writes a weekly column for the Mountrail County Promoter, in which this piece originally appeared.
It’s that time of year when pumpkins metamorphose into jack-o-lanterns and little imps provoke adults to give them candy. Halloween is here again.
Is this really a time for celebrating evil, death and debauchery?
Many parents harbor misgivings about exposing their children to the horrific and macabre. Some rightly fear for the safety of their children. To celebrate or not to celebrate?
In light of today’s “multicultural” environment, Halloween demands a fair hearing. In perspective, Halloween extends back more than one and a half millennium but few people associate Halloween with observances of the ancient Christian church.
As early as 300 AD the Christian church officially honored certain men and women on All Saints Day for their conspicuous holiness. By the end of the fourth century the church honored all Christian martyrs. Although there was no specific date identified for the celebration, tradition holds that the date was set in May. The Eastern Church still celebrates All Saints Day on the first Sunday after Pentecost.
By the eighth century the church in Rome designated November 1 as All Saints Day. On this day the church recognized all departed Christians who were not otherwise assigned a special day in the church year. Church leaders set the celebration to coincide with pagan rites, in this case with Druid practices of the conquered Celts.
All Saints Day (later including All Saints Eve) never celebrated evil, darkness, the macabre,and the horrible. All Hallows Eve (later corrupted to All Hallow E’ne or Halloween) honored the memory of departed loved ones and others in Christ. This is the exact opposite of the contemporary secular portrayal of groaning, moaning evil spirits seeking to harm the living.
A late issue of The Saturday Evening Post depicted contemporary Halloween art of recent decades. The Halloween pictures by Norman Rockwell and others brought back memories of my own childhood and the fun and excitement we kids shared on the block.
What I saw in Rockwell’s pictures was a far cry from the horrific Devil’s Night in Detroit or the criminal wilding experienced in other communities. Just because a few twisted people use Halloween as an excuse for hell-raising does not mean the Christian population must abandon the celebration. What I saw in Rockwell’s portrayal of Halloween was wholesome fun and revelry.
Yes, evil exists. It is unhealthy, even dangerous, to dismiss evil as mere silly folklore. We must never regard evil superficially. Against this backdrop of darkness the victory of Jesus Christ over death shines all the more brightly.
Imagination, mystery, enchantment, and fairy tales do play a role in the lives of kids and adults. As young people mature, they must learn to deal with the reality of death and loss and evil. They must learn to recognize the good and the wholesome in life. Properly administered, stories and play-acting and dress-up help kids resolve fears as they grow up.
J. R. R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings,” C. S. Lewis’ “Narnia” series, “Grimm’s Fairy Tales,” and more recently J. K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter” series are examples of fairy tales that provoke a child’s imagination to reconcile good over evil. Moreover, these same tales give adults a perspective by which to interact with kids.
Adults can guide young people through their learning experience as gently as possible. Carved pumpkins, parties, costumes, masks, music, treats, stories, poems, even trick-or-treating all contribute to the enchantment of the evening. Kids should not be denied these childhood opportunities.
In his book “The Screwtape Letters” C. S. Lewis cites Martin Luther pointing out that the quickest way to deal with the Devil is to mock and ridicule him. Because of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ the Devil is a defeated foe. We should act like it.
The celebration of All Saints Eve has progressed from the pagan to the Christian to the secular. Even so, this is no reason for Christians to abandon the holiday. By extension, “Therefore do not let anyone condemn you in matters of…observing festivals….” (Col. 2:16).
It would be easy to reclaim Halloween in the context in which it was originally celebrated.