Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302
A spooky opportunity
by Father Michael Savelesky, for the Inland Register
(From the Oct. 21, 2010 edition of the Inland Register)
As if we haven’t noticed: For weeks now the front entrances of local grocery stores have bulged with impressively generous (boxes of!!) bags of candy and items manufactured to scare – or at least capture the spirit of the Great Day which is about to descend upon us. There is certainly ample evidence there that our neighborhoods are about to embark upon a major cultural event. Spooks, goblins – and candy – are everywhere to be seen. It’s Halloween!
Get prepared, the vendors seemingly press into our faces. It won’t be long before little ghosts, monsters and mystery characters will appear on our doorsteps. Baskets, bags (and even pillowcases) will be stretched agape for the outpouring of goodies. “Trick or treat!” will resound throughout our neighborhoods and, unfortunately, morning’s light will display the work of a few irresponsible little devils.
Halloween is a peculiar cultural event. Long gone is its clear connection with religious celebration – that time when the night was truly celebrated as the Eve of All Hallows, the night before the celebration of All Saints Day.
The peculiarity of Halloween was born out of an effort to Christianize a purely pagan celebration. There was a time in northern Europe when on what we now identify as Oct. 31, the folk would stuff hollowed-out potatoes, gourds, pumpkins and squash with lighted candles and make the trek to neighbors’ homes to offer a word of cheer, chasing away demons and spirits of the dead. (Some thought that the dead actually haunted their premises on such a night.) The candle-bearing well-wishers would be treated with food and drink before being sent back into the night to bless yet another household.
I wonder if the Christians of that time were spooked by this type of carrying on. When they encountered this long-standing celebration, they were confronted with a question: Shall we condemn this craziness or change it? Is the stance of Christian faith to condemn on the basis of appearance or to glean the best from that experience and use it as a springboard for deepening the insights of faith?
The question remains the same today in Christian spirituality. There is a fundamentalistic trend nowadays which would propose that Satan’s very grip is upon the heart of any child who innocently dons a mask or uses the occasion of Halloween to enter into the fantasy land of play and cultural frivolity. Added to the sorry fear of razor blades in apples and poison-laden candy, this makes for a difficult time for some parents and children.
Children’s play on Halloween night can be guided by solid Christian formation in the home. Christians need not be spooked by a child’s holiday which has the appearance of Paganville. Enlightened by the life of Jesus, we can easily seize the opportunity to deepen our own awareness of the night’s significance. Spooks and goblins are figments of the imagination. The faithful departed are not. Halloween is the festival of saints, all those holy men and women who have gone before us and are now welcomed into Eternal Life. That means real people – Auntie Grace, Evelyn, Grandpa Henry, cousin Marilyn – ordinary people like us, whose holiness is known only to God and who do not claim a date on the church’s liturgical calendar.
There’s nothing wrong with setting a child down before or after their candy-collecting fling to talk about our respect for the dead and our hopes that what is left unsolved in the mystery of their death will be completed at the hands of a very loving and understanding God. Christians in the Middle Ages turned spook night into the Eve of All Hallows. Nothing we do will change the behavior pattern that has developed historically since that time. Our God is a God of joy; we can refuse to be spooked by appearances and use the opportunity to carry the light of faith into some wonderfully playful hearts. Do we condemn – or do we change? Do we complain – or do we teach?
(Father Savelesky is the diocese's Director of Deacon Formation and pastor of Assumption Parish in Spokane.)
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