Beyond the silly costumes, haunted houses and trick-or-treating… Halloween is mysteriously about hope.
I have a curious relationship with Halloween. Trick-or-treating was a part of my childhood, but not my children’s because it was not really celebrated in France (where 3 or 4 of our children were born and spent their early years). When we moved back to North America, we saw Halloween through their eyes—Why are all these people so fascinated with fear, violence, and death?
Of course for most people, Halloween is about dressing up and having fun. But is it also about something more…. something seasonal… something spiritual? The end of autumn signals that winter is coming and winter in the natural world is associated with the end of a growing cycle, and ultimately death. In the ancient world it represented the threat of scarcity (of food) and increased risk of sickness and death.
Looking back in order to move forward
In the historic church, Halloween was also the “Eve” of All Saints Day (Nov. 1 on our calendar today). It was a day to remember those now gone from our lives. It can also be a time to reflect on the past, accepting that we can’t turn back time and we must accept difficult seasons that we cannot change.
Sankofa is the West African concept and proverb of: Looking back in order to move forward.
Remembering is a spiritual discipline. God called his people out of Egypt and told them to, “Remember the long way that the Lord your God has led you.” Jesus said to his disciples, “Do this (Eucharist or Communion) in remembrance of me…” and when we do this we proclaim his death (past) and his return (future).
The discipline of remembering can be constructive. Coming to peace with the past requires such things as: humility, gratitude, but especially hope. And, it may take us to uncomfortable places… lament (or grieving), melancholy, or nostalgia (i.e. longing for what we can’t return to). But it only take us to fear if we have no hope for the future.
Fear and death and dying
This perennial fear of the future is the fuel of Halloween and it is as visible today as in the ancient world. Maybe we laugh and have fun, because real sickness and death is so terrifying (just imagine someone dressing up as a cancer patient or decorating their lawn as a concentration camp). Don’t get me wrong—thinking about death and dying is a part of life.
But for the friend of Jesus, Halloween is also mysteriously about hope. Halloween, and All Saints Days are an excellent time for reflecting on the past, maybe even mourning, then seeking God for consolation and hope. It is a time to reflect on God holding life and death in his hands.
How specifically can the Christian practice Halloween?
As an example, this year, I remembered my Grandfather and Grandmother and thanked God for them. I intentionally revisited the emotions of losing our Grandma a little over a year ago. And, I pronounced their names in a prayer of remembering and thanksgiving at church this morning.
I also took time to lament this year. I received some difficult news from a friend… a friend an ocean away. I took time to lament their difficulty and my inability to help. And, I recalled a few other things from my past too. This was not shame, but rather sorrow and frustration about what I can’t change about that past. So, I named this in prayer and I asked Jesus for peace in his mercy.
All of this can be shared with spouses, with children… with a faith community. The candy and the laughs are good fun. But the hope of Halloween is not in the noise… it is in the silence. In a world where happiness is a chief aim, it is important for us ‘souls’ to look back in order to move forward, for when we do our image of God comes into focus. So, Happy Halloween and All Saints Day!
Image credits, PBS.org