Dear Fellow Trick-or-Treaters:
Traditionally, the beginning of the fall holiday season was Thanksgiving. Unfortunately for the sake of economic stimulation, gratitude seems to be a lousy marketing theme; very little money was being spent on decorations for a holiday dedicated to contentment. (“So, what do you want for thanks giving?” has a strange oxymoronic ring to it.) So, the retail gods have moved the start of the fall spending season back a few weeks to embrace Halloween. Now it is the second most decorated holiday of the year, as you can see while driving through neighborhoods looking at all the goblins, ghouls and inflatable monsters covering the lawns of our neighbors. (By the way, if you’re going to buy the faux cobweb, could you take a little more time pulling it apart until it actually looks like cobwebs? The fuzzy rope look isn’t frightening anyone.)
I grew up in a church community that was uncomfortable with Halloween. It seemed as if we were encouraging alliances with the “dark side” by allowing our children to cavort with images of the satanic, dressed in the garb of the demonic. At the same time, as a child, I thought this holiday was really cool. Cool-points were scored not only by the candy, but also by the attention paid to the grotesque and disgusting. Some of my church friends were not allowed to celebrate All Hallows’ Eve, fearing we were giving some foothold to the devil. It was one of the few times my family was accused of compromising with sin; while an occasional costume was vetoed because it was in “bad taste”, in our house, mummies, witches and crazed devils were all on the list of reasonable disguises.
While I am concerned about the commercialization of any holiday, I am delighted by the more traditional displays for this odd festival. I love how we creatively blend our fear of dismemberment with the laughter of children. We cheerfully dress our little ones in costumes depicting the worst imagined tragedy; we laugh and smile at their expressions and toss them treats for their creativity.
C.S. Lewis, in the introduction to his book The Screwtape Letters, said the devil can overcome all but two things: being ignored by those who find him irrelevant, or being dismissed by those who make fun of him. I would suggest the Church’s greatest moments are when we operate from these two positions. “Greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world,” wrote the Apostle Paul. Evil, for us, can be dismissed as the ineffectual rantings of childish humor. Imagine the audacity in claiming that the Prince of Darkness has been rendered so benign that even toddlers can revel in his costumed expressions. The fears of this date are imaginary, merely masks covering the wide-eyed thrill of empowered innocence. It may be, I would suggest, a most Christianly holiday—the power of evil is not only domesticated, it makes us laugh and share candy. The focus for us is the Spirit that God has placed within; it is that Spirit who overcomes the world, including the imagined horrors of the underworld.
How appropriate that the prelude to Thanksgiving is our bemused dismissal of evil. It is the early preparation for the Advent of the coming Christ who moved us from fear of the devil and our mortality to laughter over the powerlessness of sin and death. In the flow of autumn, we find victory over evil, celebration of gratitude, and the welcome of the Christ who makes it so.
Hoping your trick-or-treat bag contains no Circus Peanuts (the true horror of Halloween), I remain