THREE RIVERS DISTRICT
October is here
And although it is just getting started, at the end of this month we will once again be confronted with Halloween. Only once in all my years of ministry did I ever mention Halloween in worship, so I suppose it is a little odd that I should mention it now.
Did you know that Halloween is now in second place in holiday consumer spending, trailing only Christmas? The Halloween apparel and candy industry estimates that about a third of all American adults will don a costume this Halloween, about third will attend a Halloween party, about half of all households will put Halloween decorations in homes and yards, a quarter of us will visit a “haunted” house, and nearly three-quarters of the population will dispense candy to trick-or-treaters. We will collectively spend about six billion dollars doing so.
I want to confess to you that when our kids were growing up, after the first few very early years we did not allow them to participate in Halloween activities. It was our conviction at that time as their parents that Halloween involved some kind of thinly-disguised evil, what with the dressing up as witches, monsters, ghosts and goblins. In fact, I have a book on my office shelf even now that has to do with the pagan origins of Halloween, coming from the Druids and some of their questionable practices connected with the dark side.
The origins of Halloween are actually somewhat obscure, and the historical evolution of the holiday is a complicated and contested one. But this much seems clear: What we today call Halloween began as an agricultural festival in ancient Celtic society called Samhain (Gaelic for “summer’s end”). It was held at that point in the year when the powers of the sun to provide light, growth, and warmth were waning, and the months of darkness and killing frosts were encroaching. Samhain was an in-between time – between the light and the darkness, between the warmth and the cold, between the productive abundance of summer and the killing power of winter, between life and death, between this world and the next. Samhain was a time when the curtain between the natural and the supernatural was considered to be thin, and the spirits of the dead and the creatures of the other world were thought to roam the earth.
Eventually, as Europe was Christianized, Samhain became tied calendar-wise to the Christian church’s November 1 observance of “All Saints Day,” which was also sometimes called “All Souls Day” or “All Hallows Day,” and thus the evening before became known as “All Hallows Eve” or Hallowe’en. What may be important about Halloween’s history is not that the festival was pagan in origin, but that it emerged out of that social and personal anxiety that exists on the border between summer and winter, between life and death, between that which is fully visible in the light of day and that which lies hidden in the shadows. At its roots, Halloween allowed people to draw close to that which they most feared: to the dead, to their own death, to the powers of darkness, and for this one night, at least, make a light of it.
Some may think of Halloween as “Fright Night,” but in the church this willingness to come close to death and be unafraid is called the gospel and discipleship. By virtue of our acceptance of God’s call upon our lives, a call into the Christian walk, we know that the transition from this life to the next may be daunting, perhaps even frightening to some, if only because of what we don’t know about it, but we also know as Christians that it is a transition which finds its ultimate fulfillment in the arms of a loving, merciful, gracious God.
Dr. Bradley G. Call
Three Rivers District
Rev. Dr. Brad Call
415 Walnut St
Coshocton OH 43812
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