Belfast Telegraph

Friday 22 August 2014

Halloween: Harmless treat, or trick with darkness at its heart?

It was us who gave Halloween to the world, so don the witch's outfit and stop taking yourself so seriously, says Michael Wolsey

Saints and sinners: Halloween is a time for all manner of ghoulish costumes as well as firework displays, but some people decry it as a morbid celebration of death and evil

Halloween is Ireland's greatest export, after Guinness and Bushmills whiskey. We gave it to America and the Americans gave it to the world.

For children, it's one of the most exciting times of the year, second only to Christmas. For adults who haven't forgotten how to be children, it's the best fun you can have with your clothes on. Or, at least, with a witch's clothes on. Or maybe a goblin suit.

Even if you can't get out to a fancy dress party this Halloween, you can buy a set of Dracula teeth or borrow a broomstick and accompany your kids as they go trick-or-treating.

You're being a responsible parent, right, making sure they come to no harm? And that's the great thing about Halloween for grown-ups. You can throw a warlock's cloak of virtue over all kinds of childish capers and get away with it.

Sure aren't you only being a good citizen? I mean, when else can you call at all your neighbours' houses and expect a welcome? You might even make new friends. At worst you'll get a free packet of nuts to munch since there's no chance your offspring will eat them.

When else can you parade the streets of town with a pumpkin carved like a gargoyle and not be taken into custody for your own safety? When else can you gather to watch men ignite explosives and not be arrested for paramilitary activity?

It's educational, isn't it? Passing on the old Celtic traditions of Samhain, the festival which ushered in the winter, when time stood still and the door between the spirit world and humanity was briefly left ajar.

Of course, it's not that you really enjoy ducking for apples or forecasting the future with a turn of the cards. Baking a ring and a coin into an apple tart is probably a health and safety misdemeanour, and predicting the marital fortunes of single women must surely be against some equality act.

It's all very sinful, I've no doubt. But for the sake of my grandchildren's education I'll risk damning my soul. No sacrifice is too great for the youth, I say.

There's a dark side to Halloween, of course. There are witches and demons, goblins and ghouls, cats that prowl and dogs that howl. If you believe in all that you may have cause to worry. If I believed in all that, I'd be worried, too. But for those of us who live in the real world and not on the set of an old Hammer film, Halloween is a time of great fun. Enjoy the treat, that's the trick.

Halloween: An ungodly thing to celebrate

Halloween is an ungodly thing to celebrate. Give it a miss, urges Carla Prentice of the Evangelical Alliance NI

Witches, ghosts and zombies are familiar sights on our streets and TV screens this time of the year. The festival of Halloween is a booming social and economic phenomenon.

Ten years ago, British consumers spent a mere £12m on Halloween-themed goods. Last year it grew to £300m. So should we blindly embrace this blatant commercialism or lock the doors and call in the ghostbusters? For many today, Halloween is just considered harmless fun. It's about seeing friends and neighbours, trick or treating, fancy dress, fireworks, warm apple pie and toffee apples.

While for most people there is no intention to enter pagan worship or occultist activity, you don't have to look far to see darker elements to this celebration.

The celebration on October 31 goes back to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain in which the end of harvest and the beginning of the dark period of winter were celebrated.

The boundary between this world and the world of the dead was thought to disappear on the eve of November 1.

This was the day on which the old year died and so it was seen as an appropriate time to honour death. On this day, it was believed that the souls of those who died during the year revisited their homes and so we see the preoccupation with death, spirits, ghosts and demons.

As Christians, we have no problem celebrating harvest or the end of the year; we're thankful for God's gifts and blessings. We also embrace death in a counter-cultural way through Christ's eternal life.

We believe that evil spirits do exist in the world but we live in the daily reality that the spirit of Christ dwells in us and is greater than any other.

We also believe that he destroyed the boundaries and power of death, not just for one night, but for eternity for those who accept his gift of eternal life.

Many local churches even hold alternative Halloween events to affirm this reality – celebrating life and hope instead of evil and death.

As Eleanor Roosevelt put it, it is better to "light a candle instead of cursing the darkness". On October 31, most Christians I know won't be cutting themselves off from the world.

They'll have an open door and be inviting their neighbours to come in, to see the light, and maybe even enjoy some warm apple pie.

People see it as fun but you don't have to look far to see there is

a darker side to it

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