Friday, October 30, 2015

Get Ready for Halloween

This is Halloween!

As the days grow shorter and the nights feel darker, it is natural to begin thinking of the day when we shut our eyes for the final time on this earth. During autumnal changes, when leaves change colors and fall, we cannot help but consider the brevity of life. We even call the phases of our lives "seasons" in direct comparison to weather patterns.

It is no wonder that Halloween, All Saints Day and All Souls Day should fall one right after the other during the final days of October and first days of November. But what is the significance of these holidays (should we even call them holidays as Christians) and how are they related? I'll give you an abbreviated version of the history.
  • Samhainapprox. 43 CE Gaelic festival celebrated on November first. It marked the end of the harvest and beginning of the darker winter days. It was also their New Year's Day. It was believed that the line between the living and the dead was blurred on the evening before (October 31) and ghosts would roam the streets. History of Halloween
  • All Saints' Dayapprox. 603 CE Pope Boniface IV fixed November 1 as the anniversary to celebrate all saints who had given their lives for the furtherance of the gospel, calling the day "All Hallows Day" and redeem the ongoing festivals by celebrating "All Hallows Eve" the evening before. Hence, the contraction "hallow e'ven"
    Catholic Encyclopedia: All Saints' Day
  • All Souls' Dayapprox. 1048 CE A day set aside to remember all the dead and pray that they safely pass on from purgatory to heaven.
    Catholic Encyclopedia: All Souls' Day

    NOTE: This is a very simplistic statement on purgatory, for clarity, seek someone who knows this process more intimately than I do.

So, Pagans had it first?

Probably. Although, note that the dates I cite are rough estimates on when these holidays/festivals were officially adopted by the celebrants. Common sense and anthropological assessments will tell you that the traditions hearken back much further than that. Undoubtedly, Celtic tribes held harvest festivals before 43 CE (perhaps even while Christ walked this earth), but Samhain as historians note it began around 43 CE with the mixing of Roman and Celtic traditions.

The same is true with All Hallows Day (All Saints' Day) and All Souls' Day. The early church always celebrated their martyrs. The church calendar is littered with Feast Days dedicated to the memory of one faithful servant or another. Therefore, even though 603 CE is pinned as the official organization of this holiday, the traditions surrounding it goes back to the early church.

As for All Souls' Day, Spanish (636 CE) and German (980 CE) traditions well pre-date the official recognition of the holiday in 1048 CE by St. Odilo of Cluny. Therefore, it is firmly entrenched as the last of the traditions to come around.

It should also be noted (as mentioned in the video from that current Halloween practices are completely separate from Samhain. Current, American Halloween traditions are almost all late 19th and early 20th century in origin, peaking sometime in the mid-1900s with the baby-boomers, who today are the generation most nostalgic for the Halloween of their youth. At best, it is a non-religious holiday for most.

Sanctifying the Day

A lot of Christians point to the fact that Halloween (and other holidays) were not Christian inventions and therefore belong to the world. As a result, they should have no place in the Christian life. As a matter of personal choice, I say OK, I respect your stance for you and your family. However, I also ask: Why can't we take a pagan holiday and sanctify it?

Halloween plays on our basest fear: death and the afterlife. People dress up and make light of the greatest equalizer: the grave. Who can truly laugh at the grave harder than the Christian whose God has taken the sting out of death? Halloween is a great opportunity to remember and live in this truth.

Not only that, but we are constantly told to remember our mortality in scripture. Ecclesiastes 7:2 tells us
It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of everyone; the living should take this to heart.
That's why a funeral is better than a party. It leaves us sober-minded, cognizant of the short period of time we have on this earth. James reminds us in James 4:14
Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away.
Halloween can be a party, but it can also be an opportunity to reflect on life and death without losing a loved one.

We can insist that we are holier than everybody else by abstaining from this holiday or we can take this opportunity (when mankind naturally considers the life cycle as displayed by nature) to reflect on our lives and make adjustments accordingly. Take some inspiration from the saints that have gone before us.
Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us. Hebrews 12:1.
Let us go out and live in light of eternity.
Christopher M. Jimenez. Powered by Blogger.

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