Friday, October 17, 2014

What is Halloween?

Selected (unrelated) reading: Artemis, Pentecost

"Satan's birthday!" blurted out the fifth grader to begin our class brainstorm to my open question, "What is Halloween?". Typically, I would do an overview with my students on calendar holidays to cover the origin, significance and present day observance. My colleagues were aghast at the mere prospect of mention or discussion of a religious point. My response to all was I was not interested in inquiring or imposing respective beliefs. The subject matter, such as Halloween or Christmas, is found in libraries throughout the world. Americans (I do not believe we as a people are unique in this respect) observe religious and cultural holidays with a shallowness with respect to origin and significance.

So, here's my attempt with dos (2) bits of knowledge, understanding and thoughts on The origin and significance of Halloween. I decided in favor of keeping links and references to a minimum while encouraging all to a survey study of their own. You will likely encounter discrepancies and variations between writings on Samhain/Halloween. My purpose is to do a brief overview of Halloween including, 1) The origin and significance, 2) The present day observance and practice, and 3) The value of observance as between Americans in general and Christians in particular.
The origin and significance of Halloween
Halloween, or "Hallowed (holy) eve", "All saints day" occurs, depending on the religious versus cultural, view on October 31 or November 1. Although it is regarded by some as a cultural event it was not so for its pre-christian practitioners, the Celts of France, Britain and Ireland. Among the Celts it was the learned elderly, spiritual priests of the Druids who presided over the "Samhain" (pronounced, "Sow en", approx.) religious ceremonies.
Samhain represented a day (perhaps two or three) when the lowering of the barrier of separation between the living and the dead, between the end and beginning of the year, occurred. It was a time when, according to Celtic belief, it was possible the spirits of the dead could be reached. All fires were extinguished (creating an opportune moment for the spirit world) throughout the land to be re-ignited with fire from the priests. Families remembered and invoked the spirit of loved ones and would lay out an assortment of treats to welcome their visitation. The danger in calling on the spirits of dear ones was that evil spirits (the aforementioned opportune moment) could make their way through into the real world and harm families expecting a loved one's spirit, also. Therefore, they disguised themselves to appear as evil spirits by wearing frightening attire ( costumes) as though themselves one of the dead.
Although I dressed up our daughters for their trick-or-treat night I have never taken to trick or treating let alone wearing a costume even in my younger days.
"Yes, Mr. Torres, but you're old" pointed out another boy to everyone's laughter.
"Oh! You're so right" I replied. "After all, it was the elderly priests who led the solemn Samhain ceremonies and it was not children going door-to-door asking for treats, right?"
The present day observance and practice
Halloween, from a child's view, is participation, in costume, going door-to-door armed with the intimidation, charm and their battle cry of "Trick or Treat!" Their's is a participation in a cultural event, including pumpkin carvings, devoid of meaning. Some participate in mindless destruction of property. Others flaunt a public display to profess allegiance and worship of Satan. None of this has anything to do with Samhain as observed and practiced by the Celts under the leadership of the Druid priests.
Even the "evil religion" tarnish given Samhain by the church is lost to many people. The Roman catholic church, as she has done throughout the world, acquiesced (as a means to an end: conversion of non-believers) to Celt culture. The church syncretized, that is it, melded or harmonized, pagan and Christian beliefs. Later, the church changed its stance and widened the distance between new converts and their this old pagan holiday. Samhain was distorted and demonized as Satanic worship and human sacrifice. The ignorance has been passed on from generation to generation.
The value of observance
Holidays in America, whether religious or cultural, bear a common semblance in the manner in which they are observed: A day off from school or work, picnics and parties.
Is there value in observing Halloween as a religious or cultural holiday? Halloween, and all religious holidays, are neither sanctioned nor condemned for believers in the New Testament. The problem and subsequent teaching by New Testament writers arose when holidays became a proof-test of faith. A former adherent and practitioner of the Mosaic law and now a Christian would choose, for example, to observe the Sabbath. That was not a problem. The problem occurred when it didn't stop there. The individual and other like-minded Christians decided to impose that as a faith requirement on fellow Christians. They targeted those who shared a similar religious heritage with them. The same problem occurred with former pagans as they decided to participate in their former pagan holiday festivities now that they were Christians. Provided they did not engage in immorality it was alright for them to observe the holiday, but not to expect or require fellow Christians to observe the holiday, too.
The Christian expectation, as set forth in the New Testament, is for the believer to be all things to all men. Thereby, evangelism and the winning of non-believers to faith in Jesus, the Son of God. In other words, the Christian's participation in a holiday such as Halloween is with a purpose and understanding of his/her participation and much more than self-gratification.
Unlike the mere observance of a holiday the practice of calling on the dead carries a strong Old Testament prohibition. There is a instance recorded in the book of I Samuel. The reaction of the necromancer from Endor upon seeing the dead may suggest this was a first time ever and may explain the charlatan's great fright. This is neither a condemnation nor acceptance on the Celtic belief. Their belief, whether or not we agree with it, was genuine. The biblical account inference is that even an attempt to connect with the dead is a prohibited. It is a turning away from the revelation of the word of God. It, not the dead, is where believers are to seek guidance and understanding in matters of knowledge present and future.
It is ironic that Halloween, shrouded in dubious practices and ignorance concerning the dead, should come to be a celebration of significant stature in America. Our communities come alive under the moonlight as we walk with our children through our neighborhoods. Total strangers wait and welcome eagerly the children to hear them blurt out, "trick or treat". Though some have cited Memorial Day as our day of remembrance of the dead in America it is primarily the brave men and women who fell in battle and nothing comparable to Halloween or Samhain. "El dia de los muertos" ("the day of the dead") in Latin America bears similarity to the ancient holiday. However, their observance is influenced increasingly by the American costume and "trick or treat" practice in recent years.
Americans may be hard-pressed to give a simple explanation on the meaning of Halloween. However, the affect in community neighborhoods suggests there is an undeniable significance. Perhaps, it is an opportune moment for us, the living, to ponder the meaning that shapes our lives, a great value in itself while we enjoy the night with our children. The gross perversion of Halloween as a glorious Satanic day by a Satanist such as Anton LaVey and which is so quickly swallowed up by gullible saints in Christ only serves to reveal our ignorance. LaVey's and other people's perverse corruption of a celebration is no different than false prophets like Joseph Smith who proclaimed a perverse corruption of the gospel.

The message of Halloween by the saints in Christ

The Halloween message for the saints in Christ in the community on Halloween is that while the Celts celebrated with a welcome the spirits of their departed dead; we in Christ celebrate life in our Savior Jesus, the Christ, the Son of the Living God risen from the dead.

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