When I was young, we used to celebrate Guy Fawkes with a party at a neighbour’s house for everyone in the street, with a big bonfire, fireworks and lots of food. The previous weekend the men in the street would get together to build a bonfire and, I imagine, discuss what fireworks each would buy to put into the communal pool. Toffee apples would be made and on the night, jacket potatoes cooked.
Today, people seem to be more interested in celebrating Halloween and the shops, pubs and cafes are cashing in. So what is Halloween, and why is it celebrated? (I’m grateful to ‘Wikipedia for help with understanding what Halloween is.)
Halloween is a contraction of All Hallows’ Eve, the night before All Saint’s Day, when the christian dead are remembered in a variety of ways, according to your persuasion. But Halloween is predated by a gaelic or celtic festival to celebrate the completion of the harvest season, known as Samhain. Samhain has its roots in paganism. It was a time when the dead were invited to join the festivities, and, consequently, people then felt the need to disguise themselves from the spirits of dead people – guising – which has led to what we know today as trick or treat? The practice of trick or treat? is itself predated by a British tradition of going from house to house singing and praying for the dead in return for cakes, known as souling.
Hmm. I’m all for celebrating the end of harvest. Apples, blackberries, squashes, pumpkins, cobnuts, chestnuts and more are all readily available to urban dwellers and I love to cook with these ingredients. But would I choose to invite the dead to my meals? Would I choose to be so frightened of the spirits of dead people that I felt compelled to disguise myself? Would I choose to pay others with my best fancy cakes to pray for the souls of dead people? For, as we’ve seen, that is really what Halloween is about.
Does that seem over the top? Isn’t Halloween a bit of harmless fun? Well it depends …
If you believe in the living God, you might know that the Israelites were told not to follow the practices of the people whose lands they took. This included consulting the dead (Deuteronomy 18.11). Saul (1 Samuel 28 and 31) and Manasseh (2 Kings 21) did not heed the warning and suffered as a result. The message is clear. Don’t mess with dead spirits. God, himself, has promised to be the source of wisdom and knowledge for us and this promise finds its fulfilment in Jesus (Acts 3).
When we look at what is behind a bit of harmless fun, all of a sudden, for me, Halloween seems both a bit dangerous and a bit pointless. Rather than inviting the dead to my harvest celebration with uncertain consequences, I would prefer to heed the warning and put my trust in the living God and entrust my life to him. And on bonfire night, I’ll be out there enjoying every minute.