Wednesday, October 27, 2010

A Night of Light

What comes to mind when you hear the word Halloween?  Throughout our community, decorations of witches, ghosts and devils abound.  Some enjoy the adrenalin rush of the unknown.  Scary movies, ghost stories around a campfire or walking through a cemetery at night causes our hair to stand up and heart to beat fast.  Some preachers will rant and rave about the demonic beginnings of Halloween while others will simply scoff and say that it is purely a fun celebration for kids.  I suppose I am somewhere in the middle.  First, the word “Halloween” is an old English word that means “All Hallows Eve.”  It is a the vigil before All Saints’ Day, much like Christmas Eve is the vigil before the Day of the Nativity or Christmas.  Does All Saints’ Day fall during the time the ancient pagans would celebrate their pagan day of the dead?  Yes.  For thousands of years, Christians, as they evangelized the world, would assign new holidays to replace old pagan holidays.  Christmas replaced the Celtic Winter Solstice and Resurrection Sunday replaced the celebration of the ancient goddess Ester during the Spring Equinox.  The word “Easter” actually comes from the original celebration of Ester’s Day.
When the Church’s missionaries encountered the Day of the Dead (called Sawain) of the Celtic people of the British Isles, they told them death was not something to fear and we should remember the lives of Christian people, or as the Bible calls us, Saints, who had passed from this life into the Kingdom.  For the past 1500 years, the Church of Jesus Christ has remembered the power of Christ over death and sin in the lives of those who have entered into the presence of God.  This victory over darkness was celebrated by placing lights in windows and at the doors of homes.  The pagan customs of carving pumpkins was augmented by putting lights inside of the gourds to remember that the light of Christ is in the heart of the believer. 
As has been the challenge for other holidays, culture has tried to reclaim some of the pagan symbols without the Christian influence.  Some of these reclamations have been rather modest.  Decorated evergreen trees from German mythology still bring cheer to one’s heart during the long dark winter season.  The pagan symbols of eggs and bunnies have found their way back to the Easter season.  Unfortunately, the focus on gore and evil myths of vampires has become a mainstay for Halloween.  Are they dangerous?  Anytime we allow the darkness of sin to extinguish the light of Christ, we run a certain risk.  Some of my colleagues in the faith feel we should completely ignore the celebrations going on around us or even speak out against them.  My fear is that when the church falls silent about certain aspects of culture or rails against what is generally understood as a time of fun for children, we run the risk of being ignored.  My approach has been to remind the saints and the culture of the Christian perspective of the season.  Celebrate the light of Christ during this season.  Pick a great saint of the Bible and learn more about his or her life.  Dress up as a Bible character or a character that symbolizes justice and honesty, like Superman or other appropriate “hero.”  Take some time at the family dinner table to talk about a saint in your own family.  Thank God for the life of a grandparent or other important family member who has died.  Place a light in your window to symbolize that your house is a Christian home.  Wear white on All Hallows Eve and All Saints Day (October 31 and November 1) as a symbol of allegiance to Christ as our light.  May your All Hallows Eve be a great day of celebrating Christ’s victory over sin and darkness.  Happy Halloween!

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