Monday, October 4, 2010

All That Ain't Hallowed - Part 1

Well, here we are: already four days into October... which means the annual rite of Halloween lurks just around the corner.

To most people – believing Christians included – the dilemma of Halloween rests not in whether we should acknowledge it at all, but what costume they’re going to wear this year.

Yet I continue to insist, after years of spouting the same logic with nobody being able to refute it with contradictory evidence, that people of faith have no business celebrating Halloween. Well, people of the Christian faith, anyway. People of the Wiccan faith can celebrate it all they want.

Why shouldn't Christians celebrate Halloween? How dare I spew legalistic drivel on your candy corn parade? "Is this just another example of Tim being a downer Christian? Boo-hoo to you, Mr. Whatever-Happened-To-Grace... or rather, BOO!"

Yeah, I've heard it all, even from my own family. Christians dance around all sorts of peripheral issues about reclaiming Halloween from the Catholic Church or paganism because of its association with All Saints Day and All Hallows Eve. Freedom in Christ has been misconstrued as a cosmic blank check or a non-expiring Get-Out-Of-Jail-Free card. And then there's the tired, threadbare assertion that we can have fun with the symbols as long as we don't take them seriously.

(I'm lookin' at you, Mrs. Lot. And you, Eve, and Achan, and Rich Young Ruler...)

But the plain, irrevocable truth is that Halloween is a present-day celebration of Wicca, a faith centered on the blasphemy of God. And a religion with which believers in Christ should have no affinity.

Brief History of Halloween

Halloween was first celebrated approximately 3,000 years ago as the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced “sow-in”), in what is now Ireland, the United Kingdom, and northern France (cue disparaging French joke here).

Samhain was one of five holy fire festivals, and is believed to have marked the Celtic New Year, as well as the “Dark Half of the Year.” Like many early cultures, the Celtic day began at the sunset of the night before. The day before Samhain was the last day of summer (or the old year) and the day after Samhain was the first day of winter (or the new year).

Because of its timing between the two seasons, Celts considered Samhain to be an especially magical time, or a time of no time. They believed the dead walked among the living, and veils between past, present, and future were lifted for prophecy and divination, allowing journeys to the other side. Time was abolished for the three days of this festival and people did crazy things in a temporary revolt against the ordered nature of ordinary social life and civility.

Granted, much of Celtic mythology was unwritten, both because most people couldn’t yet read or write, but also because its adherents wanted to perpetuate the mythic intangibles of their religion. This means that as the traditions of Samhain have evolved, parts of their characteristics and symbolism have either been lost or interpreted without authentication. However, we can confidently summarize the festival as a celebration of mystical events commemorating the temporary victory of the forces of darkness over those of light. Does this sound like something Christians should celebrate?

As Roman Catholicism moved into northern France and the United Kingdom, the church rescheduled its All Saints Day observance (“All Hallows”) to November 1 and All Souls Day to November 2, keeping what it considered an acceptable remnant of Samhain (rechristened “Hallowe’en”) on October 31 to appease locals and appeal to their cultural traditions. Oddly enough, the new converts weren't convinced that the festivals of their new faith were worthy of being celebrated according to a different calendar, nor were Catholics as troubled by the unBiblical baggage they were inheriting by switching dates as they were by failing to appeal to the masses. Hmmm... the more things change, the more they stay the same.

So it came to be that moreso than any other holiday, Halloween today is a vital celebration of the Wicca faith, which as it has developed from its pagan roots, itself represents beliefs diametrically opposed to evangelical Christianity. Am I wrong in thinking that to ignore this basic fact is akin to slapping the face of our Savior Who died to free us from such utterly vile satanic faiths?

Does freedom in Christ obviate our need to honor Him instead of tenets of other religions? We don't celebrate Eid or Bodhi Day in December, do we? What makes Halloween so attractive to Christians?

Putting a Historic Spin on Halloween

A popular idea enabling modern Christians to justify participation in Halloween is taking the All Saints/Souls Day aspect and remembering martyrs of the faith. After all, the Catholics have been doing it for centuries, and isn't it important to remember the example of people who have died for their faith in Christ?

Assuming that martyrs would welcome the idea of being immortalized for something the Holy Spirit enabled them to do in the first place, the theory behind an all-saints observance isn't completely without merit. There is value in being reminded of those who prized their faith in Christ so much they were willing to die for Him. That type of devotion can quickly put our own hedonistic pursuits into perspective.

Nevertheless, how fast down the slippery slope of tacky melodrama would we slide down if, as some Halloween advocates have suggested, we dressed up in costumes representing historic figures like Perpetua of Carthage or Joan of Arc? What would these martyrs think if their sacrifice for their faith were remembered today by Christians mimicking traditions used by the very heathens who sought their death in the first place? How does this address the fact that we still want to do what the world does: in this case, celebrate a satanic holiday?

I'm still waiting for somebody to prove me wrong and say that none of this matters.

Tomorrow: Conclusion

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