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Halloween: the Devil’s Holiday (Not)

Many fundamentalists eschew Halloween as “the Devil’s holiday”.  In this, as with so many things, they are grievously mistaken.  The core of the issue lies in the term itself: Halloween means hallowed,  holy, or blessed, evening.  This is a Christian, not a “satanic”, designation.  It is a time-honored Christian feast, honoring the Christian dead.  Therefore the notion of the holiday as belonging to Satan is misguided from the start.  In fact, the tradition of partying, noise-making, and grotesque costuming began as popular Christian means to frighten away any demonic spirits that might be walking Christian streets.

The pre-Christian celebration is called Samhain (“Sah-wen”).  It, too, is a celebration of the holy ancestors, said to take place on the one night of the year when the “wall between the worlds” is held to be especially thin and permeable.  From this notion is probably derived the idea that the dead – ghosts – wander on that night.  The Western tradition of ghosts, goblins and spooks roaming the land is derived from the claim that the dead revisit the earthly plane on this holy night.  Again, this is not Satanism.  It was – and is, for many practicing Pagans – an expression of reverence for the dead; an acknowledgment that, Harvest Home over, the earth is turning toward winter;  and a worshipful act of praise for that Realm which is greater than the profane.

The only “satanic” elements in the holiday as celebrated in America are mostly secular accretions to the prior Christian and Pagan traditions.  Full, orange harvest moons, black cats, creepy costumes, garish greeting cards, witches, monsters, and other such holiday accoutrements celebrate the spirit,rather than the (sacred, religious), character of Halloween.  They range from the morbid and scary to the cuddly and ludicrous, but they are not the celebration of evil that fundamentalists project onto them.

Some “biblical” churches do offer a “harvest festival” on Halloween night, “as an alternative.”  No scary costumes or other symptoms of deviltry, of course, are permitted.  In this way, such congregations believe that they are fulfilling the biblical injunction that they be “a holy people, set apart”, free of secularism, Paganism, and idolatry.  Yet, one can only wonder – given the harmless fun in which most Halloween celebrations consist – just what they really fear.  After all, they are, in their own view, “Saved.”  In their rather extreme rejection of Halloween it is possible to detect a lurking fear unbecoming of people who claim to be free in Christ, as well as an anemic, half-hearted – even grudging – attitude toward Jesus’ comforting claim:  “Fear not: I have overcome the world.”