The rise of Halloween in the Unites States together with its contagious spread to Australia is more a commentary on the disappearing influence of Christianity than it is a commentary on either country’s culture or tradition. Indeed, it is bizarre that America, supposedly the most Christian country in the world, should consider Halloween a core ingredient of their cultural identity. What has happened to their Christianity? – presumably their culture demands that nothing get in the way of an excuse for economic activity. With widespread belief in a prosperity gospel clearly anything that promotes spending and making money has become embedded in American individualistic Christianity – but why import it to Australia?
From where can we trace the roots of Halloween? The Celtic annual rhythm of the early centuries AD included a celebration around 31 October known as Sahaim. It was believed that at this time the worlds of the living and the dead overlapped and that the living needed to ward off evil spirits associated with the dead. Ceremonies included the lighting of bonfires were designed to ward off anticipated and unpleasant consequences believed to inevitably assail the living.
When the Celts became Christian under the likes of Patrick, Columba and Ninian around the 5th and 6th and 7th centuries AD these ancient ‘pagan’ ceremonies did not disappear but were absorbed into Christianity through a celebration of the living, not of the dead. The resurrection teaches that to die is to live; a celebration linking the departed with the living came to be known as “All Saints” or “All Hallows”. A celebration of the communion shared by all Christian pilgrims, living and departed, became a major festival for the Christian community alongside Christmas, Easter and Pentecost. It is believed that this association of All Saints with November 1 began in Ireland and spread throughout Christendom. While Rector of Singleton in the Hunter Valley (1976 – 1984) All Saints was one of our most significant festivals, in numbers second only to Christmas.
Now I know of few Churches that bother to remember All Saints at all. What a great loss this is. How important it is to celebrate the intergenerational nature of life and the reality of a common shared destiny. What a great image St Paul gives, in that around the race of life we are engaged in, a large unseen company is cheering us on!
Not only have we lost a major celebration, (we could easily have developed life giving rituals for the whole community, thus accentuating values that ignite a sense of responsibility beyond present gratification), but in its place we have left a hole which is now filled with a stupid diversionary ritual that contributes nothing other than a sugar injected rise in obesity and diabetes for hordes of confectionary hungry children.
In my street Halloween reinforces in the children a sense of entitlement for a sugar fix without contributing anything in return. Those who knock on my door receive a sermon about All Saints: at least this justifies their overnight egging of the front door!
I encourage the Church to reclaim the space, to develop community based rituals that build a sense of respect and belonging across generations and which inculcate values based upon belief in a shared destiny of peace and harmony..
May the 1 November reclaim its place as the celebration of All Hallows and may ‘Halloween’ be discarded as a short lived fad that belongs where it began – America – apparently the cultural home of anything that diverts from the deeper and more important celebrations of life.