There are a few things you can’t avoid in life, no matter how hard you try. The two that often come to mind are death and taxes. Come October of each year there is a third one I would like to add. It is Halloween. No matter where you go, whether it is a store, or going out for a run or even to go on social media. It is right there in my face. Ironically our taxes are due April 30th and Halloween which has a lot of connotations with death is exactly 6 months later.
As a kid I grew up participating in Halloween it a roundabout way. I grew up in the country on a farm where we milked dairy cows. My mom didn’t drive, and it wasn’t until the chores were done around 8:30-9:00 that dad drove us 3 kids up the 3rd line of Oro and down the 4th line, stopping in at neighbouring farms. Then a final stop in Edgar to finish our evening of trick or treating. We were always the last ones to show up, and the neighbours would fill up the pillows cases of us three kids with all the candy and homemade treats they had left. It was like we hit the jackpot. We definitely didn’t buy costumes, and for the life of me I don’t ever remember my mom helping me put together a costume for me. Did I even wear a costume at all?
Back 50 years ago it was more common for Halloween pranks and mischief to take place such as egging or toilet papering houses. The pranks sometimes turned into vandalism, arson and property damage. It was sometimes called Devil’s Night in the 1970’s, which actually started on October 30th. Some people used Halloween as an excuse to engage in criminal activity. Most years you would hear on the news about razor bladed apples found in some part of the region. Often in the bigger centres like Toronto. Our police and fire departments were always much busier leading up to and on Halloween.
After my dad died very suddenly in 1973 when I was 15, I found any Halloween graveyard scene, skeleton, ghost or vampire and the like decorations or costumes very repulsive and offensive. It was all way too close to the anniversary to the death of my dad. It triggered some very sad memories and emotions. How I missed him so much. So I tried to avoid Halloween the best I could. Unlike death and taxes, I could actually avoid Halloween if I tried hard enough. All it would take would be to book some time, pack a tent, sleeping bag and food and live in the woods for a couple of weeks until it was over. But I didn’t. I guess I could say back then I tolerated Halloween until it was over for another year.
My wife comes from New Zealand, and although Halloween there now is gaining more popularity, 35 years ago it wasn’t at all popular. Coming to Canada, my wife found Halloween otherworldly and weird. I didn’t put up much of an argument against not participating in it. The whole thing sends so many mixed messages. Kids are not to take candy from a stranger, unless they wear a costume, have a bag, and go directly to their door. Don’t bother the neighbours, except on Halloween when you can take their candy. But not too much. Dress like a civilized person, except on that day when you can dress like an intergalactic pirate with a realistic looking laser weapon.
My wife was a stay-at-home mom, so on Halloween she took the kids out of school for the day. She did fun stuff with them all day. And in the evening we had a great big pizza party. We rented a couple of videos for the VCR (remember those?) The kids had a blast. With my wife a stay-at-home and myself just a seasonal labourer, money was always extremely tight. The next week I would buy a couple big boxes of those individual potato chips. They were on those post Halloween sales at 50% off. We would pack those chips for the kids lunches.
It is extremely tough and tiring to keep constantly swimming upstream against societal norms. Sometimes it has to do with our Christian faith. Sometimes it is tradition. Sometimes it is financial. With Halloween it was a bit of all three. Costumes for four kids can really add up. Plus all that candy that is handed out. If we added decorations to “keep up with the Jones’s” it would honestly be cheaper to sponsor for an entire year a child in a third world country who has nothing. And give that child a bright future filled with promise and hope. According to National Retail Federation, in 2019 Americans spent $9 billion on Halloween. Of that, about $2.6 billion went to candy, $2.7 billion to decorations, and $3.2 billion to costumes. Those individually wrapped sugar bombs called Halloween candy is a racket. Because of safety concerns of tampering, as well as allergies, the giant candy corporations have a monopolized market. For the child, it is all about the candy. The collection and ingestion of as much mass-produced, corn syrup crammed, chemically colored confections as possible. Parents will spend a lifetime tending their health, teaching them to brush, feeding them the good stuff, only to have it blown to smithereens in one evening of forced acquisition.
I find it interesting that New Zealand has far less participation in Halloween compared to Canada. Even though they are both British Commonwealth countries. When I delved in to the history of it, it all makes sense. A Time magazine article mentions “Halloween has origins in Samhain, a three-day ancient Celtic iron age pagan fire festival that marked the beginning of the dark half of the year, is situated between the autumn equinox and the winter solstice.” Encyclopedia Britannica defines Samhain one of the most important and sinister calendar festivals of the year. At Samhain, held on November 1, the world of the gods was believed to be made visible to humankind, and the gods played many tricks on their mortal worshippers; it was a time fraught with danger, charged with fear, and full of supernatural episodes. Sacrifices and propitiations of every kind were thought to be vital, for without them the Celts believed they could not prevail over the perils of the season or counteract the activities of the deities. Samhain was an important precursor to Halloween.
In a timeline of Halloween history on the website called Stacker, a lot of things happened as societies rose and fell. The Romans overtook the Celts. Some Rome/Celtic traditions were merged. Then the Roman Empire fell. When the Catholic Church spilled into the former Roman occupied Celtic lands, the church picked up some of these rituals, combining them with its own. In 609 A.D., Pope Boniface IV established the Catholic feast of All Martyrs Day. The holiday later came to be known as All Saints’ Day or All Hallows’ Day. This is where the word Halloween comes from. In 837, Pope Gregory IV ordered the general observance of All Saints’ Day. The move was in line with the church’s policy back then of absorbing and “Christianizing” the customs. So this centuries-old pagan worship of the dead renamed to All Saints day or All Hallows Day has since inseparably stuck together. In the 1850’s the Irish potato famine prompted immigrants to flood into the United States and Canada by the millions. They brought the traditions of Halloween with them. Halloween really does have a quite a messed up background. There are 6 religions in full or in part that don’t celebrate Halloween
When my kids were all grown I started working for a company that had an annual Halloween work party. So I was sort of put on the spot how to approach this. For the first three years I did nothing. I attended the party without dressing up. As I observed all the other costumes, I couldn’t help notice how non offensive they were. There was nothing provocative, nothing scary, nothing sinister, nothing gory and nothing that would offend a coworker from any of the costumes There was no company written policy of how to dress for Halloween. But everyone seemed to know they were representing the company. If someone important were to show up unexpected, even how we dress in Halloween costumes was how we represented the company. So everyone dressed the part to reflect the companies image.
As a Christian, everything we say or do is a representation of Christ. Ephesians 3:17 says “Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong.” For the final 3 years I worked for that company I dressed up in a costume. It was such a blast. I had so much fun. I don’t know if it happens with other ministers, but as a lay pastor I sure grapple with this whole messed up Halloween thing. What if someone asks if they should or should not participate in Halloween? How do I answer them? How do I present Halloween to my congregation? Which I guess is the reason for this article.
It is interesting that in the pagan festival of Samhain they appeased deities during this time by sacrifices. It was generally crops and animals burned in bonfires as a protective measure from from evil otherworldly beings, And offerings were left out for other visiting mischievous spirits. Halloween is often depicted as a day of darkness or a day when demons and evil are celebrated. As a Christian, how do we celebrate this? Well, we don’t. Our celebration comes from Jesus’ words in John 8:12. “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (ESV)
We celebrate because we follow the light, not the darkness. We celebrate because we follow a God who beat evil and buried it forever. We celebrate because God proclaims over each of us this truth about who we are: “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may proclaim the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light” (1 Peter 2:9). As Christians, we don’t have to fear evil or demons or anything else the world might throw at us on Halloween. We can stand confident that the one who triumphs over evil lives within us and has dominion over any evil around us.
Does this mean we forgo dressing up our kiddos or ourselves as our favorite athlete, cartoon character, animal or any other countless respectful costume we can muster up? Not necessarily. Before we draw the curtains and hunker down in the basement, ignoring the sound of our doorbell being pushed by little girls in princess costumes, we need to ask ourselves if there is any of the following are reasons for our barricade: fear, condemnation of those celebrating this day, traditional conservative religion, or any other way that goes against the freedom we have in Jesus.
Just like the Irish brought the Halloween tradition with them to the United States and Canada, my wife brought her New Zealand tradition with her when she came to Canada of not celebrating Halloween. It was a choice we together made. With the commercialization of it these days we have saved ourselves over the years a ton of money by not enriching the pockets of the gigantic corporations even more. So a lot of factors really came in to play here. If we as Christians can do it respectfully, honouring light and not darkness, and knowing we can represent and shine our lights for Christ even on Halloween, for sure, get out there and celebrate. It is a choice we each have to make. How awesome to celebrate the awesome power of our Lord God Almighty from saving us from darkness and giving us a way to worship him forever in heaven. Lucky enough for us, there are people in our neighborhoods with lights on ready to open their doors and provide us with artificial manufactured candy for this celebration. Just don’t eat it all at once. And brush your teeth. Happy Halloween.