by Rev. John H. Farmer
Halloween asks us to be creative in youth ministry. Keep ‘em coming ‘til Jesus finds them, they him. Every effort to capture, entertain and educate our youth is an investment in things eternal.
Jesus said, “Look around you! Vast fields are ripening all around us and are ready now for the harvest. The harvesters are paid good wages and the fruit they harvest is people brought to eternal life,” John 4: 35-36.
Years back at Irvington we started having a “Holy-Ghost Wienie Roast” for our teens and a craft night with kid-food for our youngsters on Sunday evening. It later grew so popular with the adults that we renamed it our Fall Festival. This year however, the weatherman seems to want us not to celebrate.
Usually we’d start with church school, then worship and then we’d gather across the road for lunch and an afternoon of fun. We’d make a day of it mind you.
Our eldest son, pastor at the Coan Baptist Church, once notified his church kids that they were to wear Biblical theme costumes to a Halloween party. Well, everybody knows that today’s kids are smarter than your average of yester-kids, (certainly us pastors). One young lad arrived at Church wrapped as a mummy. “Nay, nay,” said the preacher, “I asked you to dress as a Biblical character, didn’t I?”
The lad responded, “I did pastor, I am Lazarus!”
Why is Halloween an annual celebration? How did it originate? Is it, as some claim, a kind of demon worship or is it just a harmless vestige of some ancient pagan ritual?
Halloween stems from a corruption of All Hallows Eve, November 1. “All Hollows Day” (or “All Saints Day”) is a day of observance in honor of Saints. “In the 5th century BC, in Celtic Ireland, summer officially ended on October 31, their new year. The disembodied spirits of all those who had died throughout the preceding year would come back in search of living bodies to possess for the next year. It was believed to be their only hope for the afterlife. All laws of space and time were suspended during this time, allowing the spirit world to intermingle with the living.
Those still living did not want to be possessed. On the night of October 31, villagers would extinguish the fires in their homes, to make them cold and undesirable. They would then dress up in all manner of ghoulish costumes and noisily paraded around the neighborhood, being as destructive as possible in order to frighten away spirits looking for bodies to possess.”
The Romans adopted the Celtic practices as their own. In the first century AD, Celtic custom was paired with October celebrations of other Roman traditions, such as their day to honor Pomona, the Roman goddess of fruit and trees. The symbol of Pomona is the apple, which might explain the origin of our modern tradition of bobbing for apples on Halloween.
I have shared this before: Over time the practice became more ritualized. As belief in spirit possession waned, the practice of dressing up like hobgoblins, ghosts and witches took on a more ceremonial role.
1840s Irish immigrants fleeing their country’s potato famine brought Halloween to America. At that time, the favorite pranks in New England included tipping over outhouses and unhinging fence gates.
Trick-or-treating is thought to have originated with a ninth-century European custom called souling. On November 2, All Souls Day, early Christians would walk from village to village begging for soul cakes, made of square pieces of bread with currants. The more soul cakes the beggars would receive, the more prayers they would promise to say on behalf of the dead relatives of the donors. It was believed that the dead remained in limbo for a time after death and that prayer, even by strangers, could expedite a soul’s passage to heaven.
The jack-o-lantern probably comes from Irish folklore. It is told that a man named Jack, was notorious as a drunkard and trickster, who tricked Satan into climbing a tree. Jack then carved an image of a cross in the tree’s trunk, trapping the devil up the tree. Jack made a deal with the devil that, if he would never tempt him again, he would promise to let him down the tree.
According to the folk tale, after Jack died, he was denied entrance to heaven because of his evil ways, but he was also denied access to hell because he had tricked the devil. Instead, the devil gave him a single ember to light his way through the frigid darkness. The ember was placed inside a hollowed-out turnip to keep it glowing longer.
Originally the Irish used turnips for “Jack’s lanterns.” Immigrant Americans found that pumpkins were far more plentiful than turnips. So the jack-o-lantern in America was a hollowed-out pumpkin, lit from within.
Halloween did not grow out of evil practices, though some dark cults may have adopted Halloween as their favorite holiday. It grew out of Celtic rituals celebrating a new year and out of Medieval European prayer rituals. Today some congregations have Halloween parties or pumpkin carving events for the kids. After all, the day itself is only as evil as one cares to make it.