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Trick or Not?

As Halloween approaches this weekend, I feel once again the tension between the sacred and the secular. As I listen to those around me, most are indifferent at best to the origins or meaning of Halloween. Some wonder, “Does it really matter?” It is likely that you too have given the origins little thought.

Parent and child alike speak about their fun in planning what costume they will wear this year to “celebrate the holiday.” For most, Halloween has no greater meaning than fun and candy. However, should fun be the driving power behind all that we do? Does it matter what we celebrate? I am all for having fun, but we are wise to ask if what we are celebrating at Halloween is worthy of our praise?

Because most are simply celebrating the fun it matters little to them what the day represents. Most, celebrate Halloween as they do Christmas; they celebrate the day not the meaning behind it. As a result, Halloween means nothing more than giving out candy and dressing up in costumes and Christmas, disassociated from the birth of Christ, is about a family gathering and the exchanging of gifts.

In a secular society, there is no problem with this. However, shouldn’t the focus of those who follow Christ be different? Is what we are celebrating worthy of praise? I understand that some will find my thoughts to be a bit scrooge like, but please hear me out.

Do you know the origins of “Trick or Treating”? It comes from the Celtic Festival of Samhain where huge bonfires were lit to guide the way of the spirits. Worshipers offered sacrifices and left out food for the spirits, hoping that a "treat" would prevent an evil "trick." Centuries later, descendants of the Celts continued to observe the Samhain festival by dressing as evil spirits. Donned in their costumes they roamed from house to house demanding food for the "spirits" to prevent the home from being harmed. People would put out hollowed turnips lit with candles and carved with demon faces to keep their places safe. Any of this sound familiar?

I hear the objections that this is not is what meant today – so what is your meaning? If we take these words at face value, our “Trick or Treat” greeting is saying either give me some treat or I will pull some trick on you. I realize that rarely is this threat carried out, but what are we teaching with such a greeting? Is it something worthy of praise?

Often “religious” groups have sought to have their cake and eat it too by offering alternatives. Yet, nearly always, candy remains the focus. So is the purpose of dressing up for fun, or is it a means to get candy? Is there something more can we do, can we find something that is praiseworthy?

In the past, our church has done a “Harvest Party”, an alternative activity for the children of our community. Typically, it features a fun, carnival type atmosphere that validates both the parent and child’s enjoyment to dress up while removing some of the baggage attached to the traditional celebrations. However, even this leaves me wondering if there is not something more that we can do.

Maybe we can start by refusing to speak of Halloween as a holiday. The origins of the word “holiday” is “holy-day” a religious festival, then later a day of recreation. The origins of Halloween is an “anti-holyday”. The reason most Christians pause at Halloween is that its origins reflect a darkness that does not glorify God. I fully recognize that the vast majority of people in our community celebrate something quite different, but it does not change the origins.

Second, do we always need an alternative? Can we not communicate what is good and right at all times? Is it good to participate in any activity that has the appearance of evil? How should we think or act? Listen to Paul’s words in Philippians 4:8, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things.”

Can we celebrate the creativity expressed in costumes and the fun of dressing up without the association with what is evil? If so, why should we succumb to the pressures to do it only at Halloween? My hope is that whatever you decide to do this Halloween that you will ask yourself if it is praiseworthy – think about such things.

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