When I grew up in Winfield, so far out in the country that there were no streetlights to mar the view of the autumn moon, the evening shadows provided a perfectly spooky scene. But Halloween was never a big deal for us.
Mostly, I suppose, its because trick-or-treating wasnt practical; the closest home was that of my grandparents, and it was about a quarter-mile away on a dark dirt road. And I never had a store-bought costume, though I often fantasized about them while watching Saturday night creature-features on TV.
There was one Halloween when my mother took us trick-or-treating, driving to the homes of a few friends and relatives. They laughed at our sheets with holes cut for eyes, while dropping candy or apples or homemade cookies into our paper grocery sacks.
Times certainly have changed. Our Evans neighborhood now is stampeded with dressed-up pedestrians on Halloween. Kids and their chaperones carry extra bags to hold all the candy they gather. Costume choices range from little tykes in elaborate masks, to teen-agers too cool to dress up but too greedy to stay home. The occasion is the epitome of happy-go-lucky fun.
Some people want all this to end. Not just this year, as terrorism causes normally stalwart people to fear their own shadows; but every year, because of an imagined shadow of cultural evil. Rather than the open-hearted happiness of childhood, these people see the black-hearted danger of criminal intent.
And I say they are wrong.
Ill first address the opponents to this years Halloween. Leaders since Sept. 11 insist we shouldnt let fear ruin our economy; to do so is a victory for terrorists. Likewise, if we allow irrational fear to keep the costumes on the shelf and the lights out on our porches, we are surrendering our childrens joy to the gloom of fanatics. I, for one, will not sacrifice my daughters night of fun on the altar of hysteria.
The other opponents of Halloween, those who dont want the holiday celebrated at all, are fellow Christians who think Halloween is an evil day designed to glorify Satan by tricking children into mimicking occult rituals.
And I say poppycock.
While the history of Halloween is often warped to fit the prejudices of the person telling the story, the holidays benign genesis is as a parallel seasonal celebration to Easter. When Christians spread into Europe, they sought ways to convert the native, nature-worshipping populace. So, with methods still used by missionaries today, those first-millennium faithful adapted Christian observances to local practices.
That was easy with Easter. Christians already marked the death and resurrection of Christ; they simply adapted those observances to the pagans springtime festivals. (Some Christians continue to resent this blending of rituals, opposing the infiltration of such symbolism as bunnies and Easter egg hunts into a sacred holiday. But remember: It was the Christians who imposed their observance on the pagans, not the other way around!)
Creating a parallel fall celebration was more complicated. Pagans celebrated the end of the harvest season and the coming of winter with varying regional rituals, many of which featured themes of death and the afterlife, but Christians had no similar observance.
The solution was All Saints Day or All Hallows Day, established to remember the faithful departed. The date originally was the first Sunday after Pentecost - still celebrated as such in the Greek Orthodox Church - but papal decree in the year 835 set it as Nov. 1, and the night before became All Hallows Evening, or Halloween, and coincided with native harvest festivals.
With selective historical citations, some have distorted Halloween to bolster their claims that the holiday has evil ancestry. On one side are those who overstate their neo-pagan claim to the holiday, and on the other are Christians frightened by those pagan claims and forgetful of their spiritual ancestors gift of All Hallows Eve.
Fact-based rebuttals are useless in the face of such zealotry. My belief, one I reinforce through a Sunday school ministry, is that Christians co-opted Halloween in the first place. Its just plain silly, and a little cowardly, for us to now act as if weve stumbled into some evil plot and must run away as if the devil were on our tail.
What are we scared of, anyway? Be not afraid, Jesus commanded; and that is the message children will find on the candy I happily hand out to them. Now, more than ever, they need to know they dont have to fear evil people who want them to cower in their homes alongside their frightened parents. And they also should not kneel to misguided good people who promote their faith in a scary climate of moral intimidation.
I dont want my children, or anyone elses, to be afraid - of either terrorists or humbugs. America and its freedoms are ours; we must not surrender them to evil people. Halloween and its fun are our childrens; we should not deprive them of it because of unreasonable caution or timid theology.
(Barry L. Paschal is opinions editor of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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