Thursday, 28 October 2010

Candy and costumes? My kind of festival....

I grew up in a Christian family in the 1980s, a time when aromatherapy was feared, Child's Play was considered a video nasty, and acupuncture was the work of the devil. (Actually if you ask a Baptist, they would probably confirm that these are indeed gateways to hell.) Naturally, Halloween was deemed the very height of this worldly love of all things occult. (Of course, these days we also have Harry Potter.) 

I think many Christians have by now accepted the festival as a necessary “evil”. (In the US it has long been considered a harmless staple of the season by even the most God-fearin' folks.) But there's still a tendency among churches to throw “anti-Halloween” parties (with the enticing essentials of every Christian party: quiche and orange squash).

Is this really necessary? I find it kind of sad that so many Christians are so scared of everything. Yes, you should be on your guard against being be sucked into a non-Christian way of life. However, I don’t see Christians having "anti-porn parties," or publicly boycotting unethical companies – arguably far more harmful lures to the easily led. So why the obsession that we are all going to be converted over to the dark side?

Wiccans celebrate Samhain, which is considered to be the time of year when “the veil thins” between this world and the supernatural. As a festival of “darkness”, it’s balanced at the opposite point of the wheel by the spring festival of Beltane (a celebration of light and fertility).

The following day is considered by the church to be the Day of All Souls – in which we can pray for those who have departed, and who knows, maybe they'll pray for us too. In a similar vein, Mexican Catholics celebrate Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead). This involves making altars to honour dead relatives, with offerings of candy, flowers and their favourite foods. Maybe I’m turning into an emo in my old age, but this seems to me rather sweet. 

Halloween isn’t going to go away – in fact, its presence in the UK is increasing every year. So why don’t we just embrace it? In fact, if we take control now we can totally hijack it. Everyone complains that Christians nicked Yule, so we might as well just go for the full monty of pagan festivals – it’s already been commercialised beyond all recognition. Nobody said it has to be dark and disturbing. We can either use it to actually honour the dead – and our spirituality – or we can just eschew any spiritual aspect and turn it into the festival of dressing up and eating sweets. (In the US it's long been the tradition that the costume you wear can be anything that takes your fancy – while we're still lagging behind with rubber scream masks and severed hands.) In years to come, historians might be saying “Halloween was once considered to be a celebration of all that was occult and evil, then in the eary 21st century some Christians stole it..."

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