Halloween is upon us. The holiday falls on a Sunday this year and since some folks are a bit squeamish about Halloween in the first place, many communities are observing the day on Saturday night. So, either Saturday or Sunday, depending on where you live, get ready for an army of children and young people dressed in costumes ranging from the cute to the bizarre.
We need not comment on the boon this day has become for candy companies. It is interesting, however, to notice the many different responses the holiday provokes. These responses also range from the cute to the bizarre.
For one thing, Halloween is no longer just for children. Halloween has become one of the biggest party times of the year. And not just for the day. Fright shows and concerts leading up to Halloween have become commonplace. These events provide an opportunity for adults to get into costume and party hard. Beer companies market heavily during the Halloween season hoping to cash in on this older group.
There is a small group of fringe followers who use Halloween as an opportunity to express their sense of alienation and separation from culture. There are acts of vandalism, large and small. And there are reported instances of mock satanic rituals, so-called black sabbaths. These events receive far more attention and provoke more anxiety than they deserve given the small numbers who actually participate in such things.
The same is true for the small but vocal Christian groups that decry the entire holiday as one long satanic ritual. These folks, many of whom refuse to allow their children to participate, believe that Halloween is a celebration of evil. They apparently believe that if children dress up as ghosts or witches or monsters that this will somehow influence the children to become evil. I guess one way to test that theory would be to dress our children as angels for a week and see what happens.
I have another take on Halloween. For me the holiday serves as an annual reminder of what happens when faith becomes separated from its source. Halloween is actually a vestige of an old religious holiday aimed at honoring the great heroes of the faith. Worshippers on All Saints Day remember and honor their faith heroes, giving thanks for them and celebrating their contribution to the work of the church.
The day before All Saints was called Hallows Eve, hallow being an old way to say holy or saintly. Hallows Een, as it was called, was intended to remind the faithful that even though all of us die, even our heroes, through faith we continue to live, including our heroes.
The church gradually lost hold of Hallows Eve and in doing so allowed it to become the possession of popular culture. Floating free in a sea of marketing and imagination, Halloween now exists as a mere shadow of its former spiritual significance.
As such Halloween serves as a warning to those Christians who would gladly give over the particulars of their faith into the hands of culture. Those who would decorate public places with Scripture or pray indiscriminately at public events may be saddened one day to learn that Scripture and prayer have lost their significance–that culture has taken them over and emptied them of their power.
It will be like this. One day in the far future a child asks, “Daddy, what are the Ten Commandments?”
Dad replies, “Oh, well, the Ten Commandments are what Moses used to write the Constitution.”
Happy Halloween everyone!
James L. Evans is pastor of Auburn First Baptist Church in Auburn, Ala.