A Holiday in Need of Renovation
Ever since that lovely October evening a few years back when my
brand new car was plastered with raw egg yolks by some teenagers in my neighborhood,
I've always has some mixed emotions about Halloween. Year after year, whenever
I washed my car, I tried in vain to remove the stains running down my left front
fender, but to no avail. The wounds inflicted by those Halloween pranksters remained
with me until I sold the car some ten years later. And I'm not the only one who's
spooked by this Holiday. Robertson Davies wrote these words for the New York Times
Halloween deserves a house cleaning. Our strongly
superstitious age needs Halloween, but cannot do anything with it in its present
degenerate form. Halloween has been thrust too much into the hands of children.
Dressing children as ghosts and witches, and sending them out on the night of
Oct 31st to demand tribute from the neighbors, or perhaps to proffer collection
boxes for a variety of more or less worthy charities, is contrary to the deeper
meaning of Halloween. The old festival is not childish, nor associated with good
works and community spirit.
On one point, Mr. Davies is
right. We have lost the deeper meaning of this season! Halloween is neither childish,
nor frivolous. As to what it really means, we'll get back to that in a moment.
But Mr. Davies is wrong on his second point. Halloween, in many countries, and
in much of the church, has always involved good works, providing food for the
poor was part of the earliest tradition. In Europe, special Halloween cakes, made
of breaded dough, called "Soul food" were given to the children of the city, particularly
the poor children. It was a feed the hungry program with a lot of extra fun and
excitement thrown in. Collecting for UNICEF or what have you is right in line
with the oldest traditions of Halloween.
But as to the deeper meaning?
Originally a Celtic festival marking the end of fall and the beginning of winter,
the Celts called it the Death of the Year, it was originally a time when the ghosts
of the dead came back to haunt the living. Specially targeted for terror were
the living who had not given proper remembrance to their dead. Halloween was the
night when the spirits of the neglected dead took vengeance on their ungrateful
and unworthy descendants. These departed spirits returned with a vengeance; they
rampaged through the land in the form of bats and owls, ghosts and goblins, not
always too careful where their destruction fell.
The Christian Church had
an entirely different idea. Why not make this a time to celebrate those who were
especially worthy of celebration. Don't sit back passively to by haunted by the
past, why not take the initiative. Use this season of the dying year to single
out those dead who are worthy of remembrance. Pay tribute to their accomplishments,
note their trials and tribulations, celebrate their lives! At first the church
celebrated the lives of martyrs, those who had actually sacrificed their lives
for the church. Then on a more positive note, it became All Saints Day, a time
of tribute to those few who deserved that honorific title, saint. Finally, an
additional celebration was added. All Soul's Day, observed on November 2nd, is
a time of remembrance for departed loved ones, a time of respect for all who have
But back to Mr. Davies. He continues, "If we were to take
a new look at Halloween, what might we do? Surely revive the custom of giving
some respectful heed to our forebears. We of North America are not so likely to
do this as are the peoples of the rest of the globe. Is it because of our driving
ambition to do better than our parents? Like it or not, to reach middle age with
less money or less prestige than our father had is somewhat to lose face. Stupid
of course, when put like that, but who is prepared to argue that we are not stupid
in several important ways? Nevertheless, our forebears are deserving of tribute
for one indisputable reason, if for no other: without them we should not be here.
Let us recognize that we are not the ultimate triumph but rather we are beads
on a string. Let us behave with decency to the beads that were strung before us
and hope modestly that the beads that come after us will not hold us of no account
simply because we are dead."
I like that. There is a need to honor those
who have gone before us. In fact, anthropologists tell us that one of the very
first things that distinguishes human life is this propensity for remembering
the dead. At the most basic level of all, caring for the bones of the dead. Perhaps
not so weird when you think about it. For the people who cared for their dead
were equally concerned about the living, and the yet unborn. What shall be the
fate of the next generation? How will the decisions we make now effect those who
come after us? These are questions well worth pondering on Halloween, or any other
night. And if this rather frivolous, and sometimes destructive holiday can become
the occasion for pondering such question as these, then Halloween will have endured
exactly the "house-cleaning" that it needs. And all of us will be the better for
Christianity Guide Charles Henderson reprinted by permission from About.com
from CBN.com's Halloween Page
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