Sunday, October 10, 2010

Autumn Celebrations - Especially If You're A Christian

Autumn CelebrationsEspecially If You’re a Christian

In the years when I raise a vegetable garden, I am very thankful when I notice the first blush of pink and gold on the trees on the hills and along the highway.   Like a huge sigh of relief, those colors signal the end of the garden and chores like weeding and canning or freezing garden produce.    

Even before the trees flame with bright gold and orange, and before acorns turn brown,  stores and farm markets set out their charming autumn displays:   big and little pumpkins, Indian corn and cornstalks, Mr. & Mrs. Scarecrow artfully propped nearby.    It’s hard to resist their clamoring to come home with you and decorate your front porch.       

The aisles in the stores also bulge with other decorations, less charming and more sinister-looking.   Skeletons.   Headstones.   Mummies.   Ghosts.    Whole aisles devoted to piles of individually wrapped candies and treats.     Magazines set aside entire issues for Halloween party food and decorations.   Second-hand shops re-arrange their whole floor plan to accommodate the racks of clothing for “costumes.”    Home-owners spray spider-web stuff on their porches and set up front yards to look like graveyards.

Why do you celebrate Halloween?   

Maybe you think Halloween is a harmless little evening of fun for yourself and your children.    They get to dress up.   Get some candy.   Mingle with friends.   What’s the harm in that?  

As a child, I went trick-r-treating and didn’t see anything harmful come of it (other than having my wits scared out of me the first time I saw a green-faced, warty-nosed witch with a pointy hat).  I didn’t turn into a devil worshipping maniac.  I never soaped a window or smashed a pumpkin.   

Still.   My hubby thought allowing our children to participate made light of the serious nature of the evil behind the celebration.  He said we were sending our children a mixed message.   I knew (in my heart) what he said was true, but I didn’t agree with him or submit to his wishes, and he reluctantly shrugged his shoulders.    So another year went by when the kids went and begged for candy, dressed like little tigers and cowboys.  

Then, a friend came into my life.   She was soft-spoken and gentle.  The way she asked questions, well, you couldn’t get mad at her because her love for the Lord was so evident in everything she said and did.     Because she was well-grounded in God’s Word, her soft-spoken words and quiet actions had that much more strength.


She challenged my thinking in such a way that made me stop and THINK.   Why was I clinging to this worldly holiday that glorified death and evil?    She handed me a book with ideas for celebrating holidays in a way that focused on Christ.  (See below.)

If you participate in this celebration of Halloween, I’d like to challenge your thinking about this “holiday” the way my soft-spoken friend challenged me.    Especially if you are a Christian.   Especially if you want your children to realize that being a Christian means being different from the rest of the world.    Especially if you expect your children (at some point) to stand up to temptations on the Road of Life.

I know what her challenge did for me.   And I hope you'll see the benefits to your family, too.

A BIT OF HISTORY FIRST with a few editorial comments thrown in

The celebration of Halloween goes back into the dark halls of ancient history.    It didn’t start out as “Halloween.”    I’m sure we could trace it all the way back to the serpent in the Garden of Eden if we tried.    Anyway, historians report that Druids were the high priests of a religious group among the Celtic people living in northern France and the British Isles.  When the Roman Empire advanced northward, the Celts and Druids receded into the murky pages of history.  They’re long gone, but their celebrations aren’t:  May Day on May 1st and Samhain on Oct 31st  are still with us.  

The Druids worshiped nature and imbued it with supernatural qualities and spiritual significance.   They also worshiped the Sun God and the Lord of Death.   During Samhain they paid tribute to the Lord of Death and built large bonfires around which they would sing and dance and some would dash through the flames.   In the days prior to the bonfire, children went around begging for material to burn in the fire.   Sounds slightly familiar, yes?

Samhain was a night on which bats, black cats, elves, and fairies stalked about.    The concept of witches developed among the Druids from their belief that women sold themselves to the Devil.   Ghosts were considered to be the souls of the dead.  

According to the Druids, the souls of the wicked dead inhabited the bodies of living people, and these needed to be entertained, placated and appeased.   These “possessed” people would then go throughout the countryside playing “trick or treat.”   If the country folk didn’t provide suitable food, shelter or entertainment, the “possessed” would vandalize or destroy property and cast spells on their homes.   In Wales, ghastly faces were carved into gourds, lighted and then carried along by the “trick or treaters” to aid in spooking the country people.   This also sounds vaguely familiar.

Samhain also marked the beginning of the new year, so predictions of the coming year and fortune-telling became an important part of the festivities.   Occult practices and beliefs include astrology, fortune-telling, magic, and other paranormal activity.

They had a lot going on, these nature-worshipping Druids.   

Enter the Romans whose empire expanded into northern Europe.    Their harvest festival honoring the fruit goddess, Pomona, mingled with those of the Druids.  Bobbing for apples and drinking cider was prominent.   They also had home decor covered with their fruit centerpieces featuring nuts and berries.  All sorts of rowdy behavior and pranks intermingled.

Cultural diversity at it’s finest!?

Enter the Roman Catholic Church with their “All Hallows’ Day” on May 1 (yes, that's the right date!).    This was a Christian celebration to honor those who had died in Christ.    By the 7th century the Church had reached northward into present day Germany and Scandinavia.    In order to offset the pagan practices surrounding Samhain, Pope Gregory III (8th century) designated November 1st as “All Hallows’ Day.”   

So, now we have the northern tribes with their October 31st celebration of the dead, but now it was somehow “Christianized.”   Hmmm.

By the Middle Ages, October 31st was known as All Hallows’ E’en (E’en represented “evening”---similar to our Christmas Eve, the day before the “Day”).    Sadly, All Saints’ Day celebrations did not displace Halloween, and in fact the two events became more intermingled.

Since Halloween was not particularly a Protestant or Anglo-Saxon feast, Halloween was not celebrated to any great extent during the early years of America’s history.   However, as more Irish Catholics immigrated to America in the 1840’s and 1850’s, the celebration came with them.  

The practice of carving pumpkins into jack-o-lanterns comes from an Irish legend of an Irishman named Jack who lured the devil up a tree to fetch an apple, then cut the sign of the cross on the bark to prevent Satan from coming down.   Jack then forced Satan to promise never to seek his soul.   When Jack died, he was turned away from Heaven because of his drunken and rowdy ways.   He then sought out Satan who would also have no part of him.   As Jack was leaving, Satan threw a hot coal from the fires of hell which Jack caught with the turnip he was eating.    Jack has been wandering the Earth ever since, seeking a place to rest, toting his own jack-o-lantern.

Halloween is also the highest feast day within the practices of witchcraft when worshipers gather to honor their master, Satan.   


All Saints’ Eve and Day (in and of itself) is a good and worthy celebration if observed in a Biblical (God pleasing) manner.    Indeed, the Bible itself lists some of the “saints” worth emulating (not worshiping, but IMITATING) because of their great faith.   You can find this Bible Hall of Fame in the 11th chapter of Hebrews.  The list includes patriarchs like Noah, Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, and Moses; judges like Gideon and Samson; King David; Samuel and the prophets.     In chapter 12 of Hebrews, the writer encourages us further:  

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses {the saints}, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin which so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.   Let us fix our eyes on Jesus….”

TOMORROW . . . suggestions for ways to celebrate 
All Saints’ Day, November 1st... 
and ways to handle October 31st, too.    


Celebrations by Becky Stevens Cordello, c1977, Butterick Publishing, NY.
Family Celebrations:  Meeting Christ in Your Holidays & Special Occasions by Ann Hibbard, c1988, Wolgemuth & Hyatt, Brentwood, TN.
World Book Encyclopedia, c1989, Chicago, IL.

No comments: