Halloween is here and as always there seems to be something for everyone. Kids get candy, big kids get beer and folks of all ages give expression to their alter egos by means of outrageous costumes.
Of course, not everyone will be having fun.
Church leaders annually assert that dark “satanic” themes infect all Halloween revelry.
Accompanying this hysteria is the dreaded fear of child abduction and ritual sacrifice. Fortunately for children, most of this fear is grounded in pure urban-legend fantasy.
Unfortunately, for the rest of us, the fear does its work whether based in fact or not. That’s why it has become standard practice for folks to x-ray Halloween booty on the off chance that some heartless child-hating psychopath has inserted a razor blade into an apple. Rarely is anything found.
Then there are the terrifying stories of candy laced with poison or illegal drugs. And there is some basis in fact for these stories. But in nearly every instance in which poison or illegal drugs has been found in or on Halloween candy, a family member of the child was involved.
The traditional costuming of children also comes under attack. After all, witches, ghouls and vampires are just one more satanic connection. Some believe that if we allow children to dress up like these creatures, we put them in touch with dangerous evil forces.
There are many ways folks deal with all this fear. Some communities simply offer alternative events—Trunk a Treat and Fall Festivals, and so on. Others wage war on Halloween trying to do away with it altogether.
One of the more ironic responses to the horror of Halloween is something we might call “Holy Terror.” Many churches host events known as “hell houses,” or “judgment houses,” or “Tribulation walks.” These staged presentations depict a violent and gruesome end of the world. The content varies from church to church, but a common theme seems to be horror, pain and suffering for anyone who does not accept Jesus as their loving Savior.
I guess holy terror is less destructive than the regular kind.
The real loss here is what Halloween used to mean. Christian leaders from another time invented a way to instill hope in the lives of people who had lost loved ones or who were facing death themselves. By using ancient pagan celebrations of the harvest, church leaders sought to drain death of its fearsome hold on us.
In the Christianized version of the autumn event, believers are reminded that all the faithful saints who have died and gone before have marked a path for us to follow. We remember these heroes on Nov. 1, All Hallows Day—hallow meaning in this case “holy ones.” The eve of this special day of remembering came to be known as “all hallows eve.” Over time it was corrupted to become what it is now—Halloween.
Sadly, with the corruption of this former holy day, it now accomplishes the very opposite of its original purpose. Rather than giving comfort and confidence in the face of death, now it heightens our fear of death and shakes our confidence in our ability to live meaningful lives.
But that’s what happens when the things of faith become co-opted by the marketplace. Whether Scripture or liturgical tradition, cut off from the life blood of worship, vital elements of faith become fertile ground for exploitation and misrepresentation.
Which reminds me, as soon as Halloween is over it will be time to get ready for Christmas.
James L. Evans is pastor of Auburn First Baptist Church in Auburn, Ala.