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COLUMNIST: Halloween tradition

By Pastor Ryan Stout

St. Peter's Lutheran Church, New York Mills

For me and mine, October has always been about one thing: Halloween!

Blame my Mother, if you must. She's always loved to decorate for holidays, and come October, our home would inevitably end up looking like a haunted mansion. She would hold dinner parties for family and friends, complete with brain-shaped Jell-O molds and freezable plastic eyeballs bobbing in punch. Even the invitations would be little boxes with rubber fingers in them.

But before you write our family traditions off as a touch bizarre, let's keep in mind that for much of Western history Halloween was considered one of the most important festivals of the year. It's true!

On the Church calendar, Nov. 1 was traditionally held as the Feast of All Saints, or All Hallows. The next night, Nov. 2, was the Feast of All Souls (Latin America's Day of the Dead). And Oct. 31, the day before All Hallows, unsurprisingly was known as All Hallows' Eve--Hallowe'en. Taken together, these three back-to-back celebrations were the Hallowtide, a period of the Church year nearly as important and beloved as Christmastide or Eastertide.

"Ah, but wait!" you might say. "Isn't Halloween an old pagan holiday?" Well, sort of.

Long ago our Celtic forebears celebrated a harvest festival known as Samhain (pronounced SOW-win). Livestock would be slaughtered, barns filled with winter stores, and as the twin threats of sickness and famine loomed large with the coming ice, people understandably viewed this as a time when the veil between the world of the living and the world of the dead wore particularly thin. Bonfires were burned to keep the darkness at bay and to summon back the sun, whilst garish costumes were donned to frighten off the ghosts and goblins of the primeval forest!

When the people of Europe converted to Christianity, many of their holidays were converted as well. New Christians came to celebrate Christmas at the winter solstice, when before they had celebrated the Mithraium or Saturnalia. Wreaths, evergreen trees, and other pre-Christmas traditions were happily given new meaning and significance. Likewise, the festival of the Germanic spring goddess (whose name was "Easter") became a celebration of Resurrection.

So it was with Halloween. The old festival continued, but no longer as a time of horror and foreboding. Instead, the Hallowtide found new life as a celebration of light in the midst of darkness and laughter in the face of fear! The old "Things That Go Bump in the Night," which so terrified our ancestors, have been transformed into objects of frolic and fun for our children.

It's not about being wicked or deviant. And it is certainly not an irreligious time. In the end, the true and faithful meaning of Halloween is simply this: "to dance in the face of Death, and thereby know what it is to truly be alive." Hope and joy defy gloom and doom! Now what could better express a life of faith than that?

Happy Halloween, everybody.