Sunday, April 30, 2017

HALLOWEEN AND THE CHURCH: You Say Witch Like Its A Bad Thing!

An Editorial

Growing up in New York state was a truly wonderful and magical experience - especially in October. As the days grew short and brisk, the trees burst into a kaleidoscope of flaming reds, oranges, and golds that made the mountainsides pop off the horizon and onto center stage. And then, finally, to my heart's great delight, the ubiquitous pumpkin patches and spooky Halloween decorations crept out of hiding. 

Even as a young child, my love for Halloween was never about anything so scant and fleeting as a single night scavenging for sugar and mischief. Oh no. To me, Halloween represented so much more. It encompassed all the sights and sensations of one season melding into another. It was a glorious time-lapse transition from lush swaying greens to a carnival of color, falling and spinning and crunching underfoot.  It was the thrill as our Indian Summer warmth dissolved into chill bumps on my flesh and color on  my cheeks. It was the smoky aroma of crackling leaf piles as their vapors twisted skyward. It was the brilliant farewell as nature took her final splashy bow before a long deserved rest. It was an epic show and I savored every moment. To this day, I adore the autumn season and all the festive joy it heralds. Not only because Halloween is still my most favorite holiday, but because it cues the beginning of a string of happy celebrations that culminate in a fresh new year.

My husband doesn't understand. He thinks it silly that someone my age can still wax nostalgic over childhood memories so long past. What he doesn't get is that it's not so much my memories, but a continuum of energy and passion... It jolts me out of my summer malaise and makes me feel excited and alive and young at heart. To me Halloween represents everything good and fun and enchanting and jubilant about autumn's last hoorah.

Like a lot of people raised in the Bible Belt, and all points south, my husband grew up with a kind of dualistic love-hate relationship with Halloween. That it's fine as long as it isn't taken too seriously, as long as it's managed and controlled, as longs as it's kept only as a jolly innocuous party theme for the wee's and the pre's, and as long as it's been stripped of all evil, witchery, and pagan connotation. What's the big deal, I wondered to myself. Why is everyone so uptight about Halloween in the South? The answer, I discovered, is steeped in a bit religious confusion. 

The word Halloween is a contraction of "All Hallows Eve," which designates the vigil of All Hallow's Day, more commonly known as All Saints Day. Despite concerns among some Catholics and other Christians in recent years about the "pagan origins" of Halloween, there really are none. The only remote connection between our modern day American Halloween and paganism is the similarity of the Christian feast of All Saints Day and the Celtic harvest festival of Samhain. The Celtic elements include lighting bonfires, carving turnips, and going from house to house collecting treats, but the occult aspects of demons and spirits actually have their roots in Catholic belief. So, really, the tradition of Halloween witches, ghosties and ghoulies gallivanting around in  costumed finery, owes more to Christian belief over Celtic or pagan traditions. Who knew??

Now that we know Halloween's big 4 D's: death, disobedience, demons, and destruction are manifestations of the Christian side and not the seething underworld, can we finally lighten up people?

The fact is, you can be a very good Christian, a devout believer of any particular stripe, and a pious purveyor of prayer and still enjoy a little Halloween tomfoolery. How? By not joining the two together to begin with. Keep them in their own separate compartments (coffins?) because that's where they belong. Today, Halloween and religion are truly mutually exclusive. And Halloween is not going anywhere, by the way. 

Did you know that in 2014, the National Retail Federation forecast that revenues on the sale of Halloween related goods (candy, costumes and decorations) was almost $7.5 billion (that's billion - with a B) of which $350 million was be earmarked for pet costumes alone? Now consider that this is happening in a suffering economy and you can accurately see the scale of popularity Halloween enjoys. The only thing sinful about it, is what it does to our pocketbooks. 

Since our wedding anniversary is on November 1st (All Saint's Day for those of you paying attention), my husband and I usually go on a short trip somewhere fun to celebrate. This always includes Halloween. Last year we went to Salem, Massachusetts to get the full flavor of the Halloween experience. It was my first visit and was very fun. The only thing that shocked, surprised, and kind of ruined the ambiance of Halloween were the religious groups and cross carriers trying to convert souls with their obnoxious bullhorns in the quaint streets of Salem. Are you kidding me? Now, I am all for saving souls, trust me, but not on Halloween night - please! We good-hearted witches need one day out of the year when we can finally release our alter egos for a fly-about under the moonlit sky, free from worry, damnation, and burning at the stake.  

Can I get an Amen?

Alixandra Hice