Saturday, October 31, 2015


Halloween, an American autumn holiday, mainly for children, and for grownups who want another occasion to party. It used to be an innocent pastime. I have many beautiful memories of my own childhood, and of part of the childhood of my sons, connected to this unholy holiday.

Well, yes, it is about evil, sort of. Not the real evil, real devils, Satan, and the like, but about the grotesque and sometimes funny depictions of evil in our mythologies, ancient and modern. It was, for me as a boy, just another time to dress up and make believe, and be out after dark.

I grew up in inner city Chicago in the 1950’s. Halloween was celebrated by just about everyone, religious affiliations notwithstanding. I remember Jewish, Catholic, and Orthodox kids all going trick-or-treating. I don’t remember knowing any Protestants, but if there were any, I’m sure they went too.

One of my fondest childhood memories of church was the Halloween that the parish celebrated with a big autumn festival and party. Before the party we were allowed to go trick-or-treating around the block with our parents, but not before Fr Molon made us sit in the first row pews of the chapel so he could bless us with holy water. I was a shepherd that year, but one of my buddies was a red devil, complete with pitchfork, horns, and barbed tail, a great costume. When the holy water hit him, it didn’t boil away.

Usually we just dressed up in our parents’ old clothes, often cross-dressing. I’m sure my brother and I went as (what today we would call) bag ladies, smeared with our Mom’s garish cosmetics, and our older sister leathered up in Dad’s old work clothes and hat to look like a hobo. It was all just for fun.

Things were similar when I was first raising my family of sons in Portland in the 1970’s and ‘80’s. I used to have a lot of fun taking the boys on their rounds to get goodies and meet the neighbors. We were Episcopalians then, and we even had a Halloween party at the church one year. But times change.

Along came Christian fundamentalism, broadcast in our faces, warning us from their posh TV studios that Halloween was satanic, that children were being sacrificed to demons, losing their lives, all over America on that hideous night. That affected my wife to the point where she spent the night praying that the innocent victims of this modern form of pagan witchery be rescued and saved. The boys and I had to content ourselves with going out to the movies that night. Halloween fell victim to holiness.

Well, not everything is really what it seems. The holiness that suppressed this unholy holiday ended up being even worse than the innocent observance it tried to snuff out. Halloween goes on, as always. I no longer go out to the movies on that night to avoid trick-or-treaters, nor do I display the large, rustic Orthodox cross on my front door to warn the wicked and deluded to stay away.

The world has changed, though, in very real ways. Some of the more gruesome depictions that used to appear to frighten us on Halloween are somewhat subdued, others banished, due to the grim reality of the macabre in our everyday life, people being decapitated, for example, by a resurgence of medieval barbarism.

It’s true that some Christians firmly believe that Halloween should be shunned because it is basically evil, and offensive to the Holy God. It’s true that many Orthodox Christians continue to hold a grudge against it for what they think are doctrinal reasons. But both rank evil and soul-destroying heresy use more deliberate, and more hidden, weaponry than Halloween traditions.

If and when a child comes to your door, lured by candle-lit jack-o-lanterns and scarecrows in the front yard, welcome him or her as you would welcome the Lord, who lives in our midst, who walks the world’s roads unafraid of getting His feet dirty, and who entered our world as a poor child. Your loving welcome and generosity will light a way for that child better than a bible tract or a Chick comic tucked into a bag of candy. Whatever you do to the least of these, that you do unto Him.

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