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Chaplain's Chat 1st November 2017

Halloween

As we can see from the merchandise in shops, Halloween is upon us again. There will be costumes worn and people will go out ‘trick or treating.’ Given its pagan origins, its ghoulish imagery, and its perceived dark side, the question for some people becomes whether we should be celebrating Halloween at all. For many people, Halloween is just a bit of light-hearted fun. The response of Christians to Halloween is mixed. Some choose to boycott the event entirely, others will participate in the festivities, and others will organise alternative Halloween events at their church.

To remind ourselves of the origins of the name, "Halloween" derives from “All Hallows Eve,” the evening before All Saints Day. "All Hallows Eve" was shortened to "Hallow-e'en," and then to "Halloween."

As Christianity spread through Europe, it came up against many pagan cultures and customs. Many of the new converts to Christianity were so entrenched in these cultures and customs, that they found them to be an obstacle to their newfound Christian faith. In order to try to deal with these cultural clashes, the church commonly moved distinctively Christian celebrations to the dates of pagan celebrations in an effort to Christianise those celebrations. That is what happened with All Saints Eve. It was the original Halloween ‘alternative!’

The Celtic people of Europe were pagan Druids. Their major celebrations were linked to the seasons. At the end of the summer in Northern Europe, the people prepared for winter by harvesting crops and slaughtering animals that would not make it through the harsh winters. Life slowed down as winter brought darkness in the form of shortened days and longer nights. The pagan Samhain festival that ran from October 31 to November 2 celebrated the harvest, death, and the onset of winter. The Celts believed that the curtain dividing the living and the dead lifted during Samhain to allow the spirits of the dead to walk among the living; hence the image of ghosts haunting the earth. Skeletons, skulls, and the colour black symbolised the imagery of death. You will recognise this imagery as being common in today's Halloween celebrations.

As the centuries passed, Samhain and All Hallows Eve became combined. Trick-or-treating became a time when young people would go from house to house to gather food and drink for their parties. Stingy householders ran the risk of a "trick" being played on their property by the young people. Today Halloween is almost exclusively a secular celebration. Children (and adults) dress up in costumes and wander the neighbourhood in search of sweets, often in exchange for a ‘trick.’

So how should Christians respond to Halloween? The level at which we engage with Halloween is a matter of individual conscience. Whatever we do, I would suggest that we should respond with cautionary wisdom. Christians could use Halloween and all that it brings to the imagination through the death imagery, spirits, ghosts and the like, as an opportunity to engage the secular world with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The spirits of the dead do not have to wander aimlessly around this earth. The good news of the Gospel is of the hope of eternal life after our inevitable death. It is a message that announces the victory of Jesus over death, darkness and all that is evil, and the opportunity of eternal life in his Kingdom. If we can reintroduce this message into the psyche of what has once again become an entirely secular celebration, then we will have served the Gospel well.

God bless.
Reverend Dave