Friday, September 01, 2006


It's September! This means my brother's birthday is coming, fall is just beginning to fall, and the Halloween stores have been open for a week and a half.

And I couldn't be happier.

I love Halloween, I always have. I love costumes. I love being a little scared (adrenaline can be fun every once in a while) and I love not being scared because, well, I'm what's scary. I love Jack O' Lanterns and gargoyles. I love how happy the kids get, all hyped up and running, with flashlights and their pillow cases or plastic Jack O' Lanterns to hold all that candy. And if you're particularly clever, the flashlight goes into the loot bearing device, lighting it up from the inside. I love the yard decorations, the house decorations, the people decorations--

But, what about pagan elements? What about Devil worship? What's keeping Satan from stealing the very souls of our children as they run amok, transformed into candy crazed Halloweenies?


I don't think that Halloween is going to be what drives your children from the church. Be honest, which is more likely to regularly keep your child out of church on Sunday, Halloween, or team sports? And I'm not sure that I believe in literal evil spirits, but even if I did, many of Halloween's traditions are actually about keeping such spirits at bay!

Take the Jack O' Lantern. This tradition likely comes from the old Irish tale of Stingy Jack, who once tricked the Devil, trapping him and only releasing him if he promises to not come for his soul. To make a long story short, when Stingy Jack dies, neither Heaven nor Hell wants his soul. In some versions of the story, the Devil even throws a coal from Hell at Jack. In every version, Jack carves a turnip into a lantern (yes, a turnip, pumpkins are native to the Americas) and roams the countryside for eternity. I like the version with the coal, myself, as Jack of the Lantern uses the hell-coal to light his turnip lantern. In any case, folk in Ireland and Scotland began to make their own versions of Jack's Lantern, carving frightening faces into it to scare away Jack of the Lantern and any other wandering evil spirits.

So I don't think Halloween is harmful. And I rather think it provides a basic sociological need. Winter is on its way, the days are going to grow short, the leaves on the trees will soon be gone... The world gets cold, like death. I think we have a deep-seated need to cut loose a little before something like that. In that sense, Halloween is like Mardi Gras (which is the last big hurrah before we clamp down for Lent) -- only Halloween has always been very up front about centering around death.

I think maybe that's why it makes some of us uncomfortable. Some of us don't want to think about death and the fear it often brings. But death is a fact. Darkness is a fact. And both of those things will always have a certain amount of hold over us... or at least they will until the end of days. But you can steal some thunder from darkness and death, at least for one night. You can hide behind a mask. You can dress up as the dark. You can dress up as death. And in doing so, you can laugh at them. And run down the street with your flashlight in your Jack O' Lantern.

And for a little while you can forget your diet and eat lots and lots of candy.

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