Halloween and All Hallows
I know this is a sentiment that not all Christians will share, but if I am quite honest, there are bits of Halloween that I am rather fond of.
It may stem of course from the fact that as a brownie I consistently won 1st prize for my fancy dress at the Halloween party every year, yes every year that I was there. You are looking at a 1st Welwyn Brownies record holder. Of course this was down to the imagination, skill and surprising competitive streak in my mother and nothing to do with me. The costume that most sticks in my mind was that of a witches toad which consisted of a lot of green painted egg boxes attached down my back and my fathers flippers.
But also as a child I was particularly attached to the ghoulishness of the games we would play at those parties- of sitting in the dark and having eyeballs and intestines passed to you to feel. We all knew it was most likely a couple of boiled eggs and a bowl of spaghetti – but the chance to explore the darker side of life in a safe environment was something that certainly appealed.
And still today, I don’t really mind the dressing up and knocking on doors. I enjoy seeing the smallest of witches and mummies wandering down our road, although I have noticed that no one ever knocks at the Rectory door. I thought this might be because our house is not obvious from the street, but Richard my window cleaner tells me that actually it will be because there is no greater terror than to come face to face with a disapproving vicar. On the night of frights, that is too terrible a fate for the most fearsome zombie or vampire to contemplate. But never mind. We always stock up on sweets just in case, and so end up eating them all ourselves which is no hardship.
Now of course there is a history to Halloween that encourages a pagan or superstitious or even spiritual meddling with which I do not concur or condone. But for the majority of people who have bought the cheap costumes for their children from supermarket aisles and have partied the night away in the village hall last night the tradition is perhaps largely another chance for a good time. Just as Christmas is a great excuse for presents and Easter for eating chocolate until you’re sick.
But pondering Halloween a little this year. I have been wondering if it doesn’t serve another purpose than just a chance for a bit of fun. Because it seems to me, it offers the chance, whether conscious or not to explore, within a safe environment, the darker side of life; the things that do scare us. And although we might dress these up as ghouls and witches and zombies, perhaps what we are really exploring are the greater powers of evil and darkness and death.
And I guess this is where as Christians we may gasp and say ‘that is why this tradition is so wrong’, but I’m not so sure. Because exploring the dark powers of this world does not need mean we are celebrating them, in the same way we celebrate Christmas, Easter and indeed All Saints today, but rather that we find a way to acknowledge the fear that is deep within each human being, that there are things outside our control that might one day come and get us – illness, divorce, loneliness, financial ruin, death.
And these things I’m afraid, are important to explore – because we can’t always draw our curtains and pretend we’re not in when they coming knocking at the door. Just when we’re least expecting it, they can rear their ugly head and make us scream.
But Halloween is of course All Hallows’ Eve. That is where its name comes from. And personally I think with its rise in popularity Christians have an opportunity to reclaim it as part of Christian tradition by linking it to today. Because All Hallows’ Eve, despite its darkness and focus on our fears is always pointing to that which lies beyond – the winning brightness of God revealed through the saints.
Christians, more than many, have always been encouraged to face the dark. We come out in the dark of midnight mass because we have been told light will burst into the darkness, we can call Good Friday good because we know Easter will appear, we can confess our sins with honesty because we have confidence in that mercy is always waiting to be pronounced, – so too I think, we should not be afraid to acknowledge that which is dark within the world, within the spiritual realm and within our selves – because after the night of All Hallows’ Eve comes the dawn of All Hallows’ day, today, All Saints day. It is a surety. After the fear of the night comes the glory of the light.
The saints were men and women who often met the darkness of this world face to face, who knew the pain of martyrdom, of the evilness of the human heart, who saw the horror of death forced upon them – but they remind us that whatever the darkness and evil and suffering in this world it will never be the last word. That the demons of this world, however we may understand that, however huge they seem at times to be, diminish into nothing when the light of Christ shines upon us. That faith in God can transform darkness to light and death into life.
And it doesn’t mean that the darkness is not real. When Christ enters the scene where Lazarus has died the real horrors of death are all apparent: the stench of confusion, anger, sorrow, despair. And Mary’s accusation to Jesus stings “Lord, if you had been here my brother would not have died”, just as our own experience of grief and hardship throw out similar accusations to God, “if you cared, if you were there, this would not have happened”. I suspect all of us will have experienced at times in our lives just how dark darkness can be.
Darkness and fear and death are all part of this world. We cannot avoid them but what All Saints day, All Hallows reminds us is that what ever we fear, whatever is dark, whatever we’d rather hide from – the glory of God outshines it all. His word speaks even into the horror
of death to bring us into life.
“Take away the stone” Jesus commands the people gathered at the tomb. “Lazarus, come out!” Christ c
ries. And Lazarus, from the darkness arises. “Unbind him” says Jesus “and let him go”.