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Sunday Reflections: Happy (or Unhappy) Halloween?

The Rev. Dai Morgan looks at the varying viewpoints about the holiday.

By Rev. Dai Morgan

It’s that time of year again, Halloween, the holiday that people either love or hate.  As a kid, for my part, I enjoyed the holiday. In fact, I still do. I get a kick out of passing out treats and greeting the kids who come to the door. I look at Halloween as a time of goodwill and fun.

My attitude is probably an extension of my experience of Halloween, as a youngster. I grew up in a safe residential neighborhood in the City of Pittsburgh. I never perceived danger in the holiday and, fortunately, never experienced trouble.

One of the things that I liked about Halloween was dressing up in costumes. I think that there must be a part of the human psyche that desires to take on the guise of someone else or something else. Perhaps, masquerading can be therapeutic—I don’t know. But, I do know that dressing up, that one time each year, was a lot of fun. I also enjoyed the challenge and creativity of making my own costume—which was an important part of the whole experience.

However, I would be remiss if I did not admit that on Halloween I was in it for the candy. It seemed to me that “trick-or-treating” was clearly a time when a highly motivated individual could reap the rewards of dedicated effort. I was dedicated. My attitude would have gratified Adam Smith, the father of capitalism. The results of my trick-or-treating labor usually provided a large enough candy supply to last for weeks.

Undoubtedly, not everyone’s experience has been as benign as mine. Those with a mind to do mischief will always find a pretext. Halloween is sometimes used as that pretext for mischief. However, overall in America, Halloween is perceived to be a positive event. Merchants have certainly benefited from the holiday. It appears that Halloween, from a retail standpoint, is the second biggest seasonal money-maker, after Christmas.    

Halloween has become a part of American culture. In fact, it can be strongly argued that the holiday, as it is now practiced, is actually an American creation. The beginning of American Halloween is often attributed to the great 19th century Irish immigration. To whatever degree this might be true, however, 150 years of Americanization has created what we now recognize as Halloween.

The roots of Halloween, it is often claimed, can be found in ancient Druidic and Celtic customs. The problem with this line of thought is that exact information regarding Celtic beliefs and practices died with the last independent Celtic tribes, centuries ago. Though there is plenty of information purporting to describe the Celtic origins of Halloween, little if any of it is reliable. This “knowledge” is almost all conjecture and extrapolation by cultures which came afterward. There are no direct Celtic sources on this matter.

In our own time, there are many different religious perspectives regarding Halloween. Among Christians, four viewpoints predominate:

1)    An emphasis on the Christian tradition associated with All Hallows Eve. This is mostly a “High Church” practice. It includes praying, fasting and worship using a liturgy appropriate to the occasion.

2)    No religious observance is followed. However, as a secular pastime the occasion might be used for fun and fellowship. This is typical of mainline Protestant denominations. My congregation, for example, passes out treats during the community trick-or-treat hours and also uses the opportunity to distribute invitations to attend church.

3)    Consciously refuse to participate in the common secular customs related to Halloween. This is a choice to define one’s faithfulness by separating the secular from the religious through non-conformity with that which is not directly faith-based or Bible-based. These folks tend to be conservative in their approach to their faith, but can be found in almost any Christian tradition.

4)    Overtly hostile and resistant toward Halloween. The concept of Halloween is perceived to be “pagan,” “demonic,” “occult” or similarly opposed to God and the Church. Consequently, these folks campaign against the holiday. This view might be found among Pentecostals and within independent-minded churches.

Among these four perspectives, in some cases, there is likely to be disagreement. But, it should be remembered, all four perspectives represent attempts to understand how one’s faith relates to the world around us. There is value in diverse opinions. In the attitude toward Halloween, as in other cases, varying perspectives act as checks and balances.

My perspective needs to be informed by other views. However, on this matter, for me it will be “Happy Halloween.” For others it will be “Unhappy Halloween!” What is it for you?

The Rev. Dai Morgan is pastor of Living Spirit Ministry-Swissvale United Methodist Church.

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