By John Sanidopoulos
Last year (2009) I wrote a controversial piece about Halloween titled "Orthodoxy and Halloween: Separating Fact From Fiction". I want to make it clear that I am not out to defend Halloween or promote its celebration by Christians, though I do find it important to separate fact from the numerous fictions regarding this holiday promoted by Christians, and leave each individual to observe the day as their conscience and taste determines. Personally I see no contradiction between Halloween and Christianity and it is perfectly coherent in my heart the way I celebrate it. The fictional fundamentalist folklore and mythology surrounding Halloween is in my opinion the darkest aspect of the holiday, and it is the truth that I seek to bring to light lest Christianity be undermined, as it so often irresponsibly is in society. However, I also understand it is not within everyone's taste to celebrate Halloween, so mutual respect plays a large role in how I present the topic to Christians.
Though I am a joyful celebrant of Halloween and very much enjoy many aspects of it as a cultural and seasonal celebration separate from the feasts of the Church, it has become unfortunate that some things associated with the holiday must be avoided if we wish to celebrate with a clean conscience.
How did Halloween come to be as dark and sinister as it appears in our days? It's all quite simple really if one looks at the history honestly and carefully. Halloween has its origins in the medieval Christian Church before the schism of 1054. The mythology that Halloween has its origins in pagan times prior to Christianity arose in the 19th century among Celtic scholars who had their own personal agendas in falsifying history. The demonization of the holiday began among Christians, especially in the 1960's as part of the counter-cultural movement in the United States. This demonization was based on the falsified history advocated by 19th century Celtic historians. However, since Neo-Paganism was on the rise in the 1960's, Pagans and New Agers took advantage of this falsified history by claiming Christians took the notion of All Hallow's Eve from the ancient Celts, whom they falsely claim an association with. This started an ideological war between the two factions ever since, and both were based on false ideas and information. The absurdity of the fundamentalist Christian arguments soon gave way to the secular overtaking of the holiday. And since Christians in the West who celebrate All Saint's Day on November 1 wanted nothing to do with Halloween, the Neo-Pagans were more than happy to come in and reap all the benefits.
Where does this leave us as Christians? Well, thankfully there are still many aspects to Halloween that leave us room to have enough innocent and wholesome fun and enjoyment without being a burden to our Christian conscience. Yet, there are still things we must avoid. And this should not alarm us nor should it cause extreme reactions, since Christians are called to weed things out daily in their lives in a secular environment. This is no different other than it is in a different context. For example, most every major holiday has something inappropriate in it that we should avoid as Christians, but this does not rule out the holiday altogether for Christians. Even when we use technology, like the internet, we know that it can bring us into many temptations, but as Christians we avoid the evil that can be just a click away and stick to what we need to use it for or even for beneficial and innocent fun reasons.
I cannot speak for every individuals conscience in presenting my own personal list of ten things I do not do on Halloween. But I offer this as a guide for those who are caught up in the confusion of the season.
This is my personal list of "Ten Things I Won't Do On Halloween", in no particular order:
1. I will not wear an unseemly costume.
I am not against Christians wearing costumes, but sometimes things can go overboard and we need to keep this in mind when choosing our costumes. For example, the Orthodox Church has specific canons that will not allow a man to wear women's clothing nor a woman men's clothing. This is rooted in Scripture. So no "sweet transvestites from Transylvania", for those who can catch the movie reference. I would also avoid evil personifications of real figures, such as demons or serial killers, though I personally have no problem with fictional characters or even monsters. Deities or religious figures, even saints, is something I would avoid too, as well as overly sexual provocative outfits.
2. I will not participate in Occult activity.
This includes such things as going to a psychic, a seance, or anything rooted in the New Age Movement or Neo-Paganism. It also includes paranormal games, such as playing with a Ouija board, which can cause much spiritual harm. I personally enjoy haunted houses and ghost tours, but sometimes occultic activity is implemented playfully; I will not participate in this either and will keep silent or stand back. If I find it overly offensive against my personal beliefs, I will mention it to the operators, though this all is very rare. I also am interested in visiting and investigating "real" haunted locations, but we should not invite communication with spirits of any kind as one often sees among paranormal investigators on television.
3. I will not attend a party that invites temptations.
Though I don't consider myself much of a party person, over the years I have been invited to a few parties on Halloween. And like many parties, temptations could be involved either with drugs, alcohol, sex, paranormal games, etc. I personally don't like those types of atmospheres, so I avoid them. If I know these things will not be involved, then I would not be opposed to going.
4. I will not subscribe to common Secular or Neo-Pagan beliefs promoted on Halloween.
The beliefs I have most in mind here concern spiritual matters regarding ghosts and energies and death. The occult deals with the manipulation of energy in the universe to bring about positivity in one's life, though it can also be used for evil. The New Age mentality also, for the most part, considers ghosts to be the souls of dead people who have not been able to pass on to the next realm of existence and practices are used to communicate with them or help them get to "the other side". These are beliefs that run in contradiction to Christian beliefs and should not be subscribed to. The manipulation of energies is in fact demonic activity, while ghosts are often demons who may be masquerading as innocent victims to establish their presence in our lives. This is often encountered today on paranormal TV shows, movies and ghost tours. Though I enjoy all three for different reasons, I will not subscribe to their beliefs.
5. I will not participate in pranks, vandalism or wild behavior.
Being an adult, I am way past this type of behavior, but when I was younger I participated in some minor mischievous behavior. However, it was all in fun and between my friends and I. Some however go a bit too far and start throwing eggs at moving cars and house windows, toilet papering the houses of enemies (also called TP'ing), spraying whip cream and foam string on cars which leave permanent damage, vandalizing graveyards, etc. This and similar such things I would not participate in and I plead others do the same as well. (If you happen to be a victim, here are a few tips to get you through on November 1st.)
6. I will not become fascinated with the dark side.
Interest in the macabre and the grotesque is a part of some people's nature. I would include myself in that category, so I understand where such people come from. However, people could bring it to a whole other level when they enter into total fascination with such things. I admit that I appreciate the beauty, art and history of such things, but it does not form who I am or fog my opinion or thinking so as to call good evil or evil good. Everything must be approached with moderation, and we must also realize that such allurements have their temptations as well.
7. I will not paganize Halloween.
Halloween is not a pagan holiday. Such notions are only born out of ignorance. It is a cultural and seasonal holiday that can be celebrated either for good or for evil, whatever one chooses. We are not bound by any ritual of the day that inevitably forces us to paganize it, nor does everything about it have to contradict our moral and spiritual principles. I would even consider it less confusing than Thanksgiving, which basically encourages us to break our Nativity Fast with a lot of non-fasting foods and gluttonous eating. There are some Christians who give up amidst the confusion and just hand the day over to the devil. I am not that type of person if I don't have to be. With knowledge comes much freedom, and research into the deeper meaning of the holiday and all its aspects is a very liberating task.
8. I will not Christianize the holiday.
Halloween was originally a Christian holiday dating before the Great Schism, but for Orthodox Christians it is no longer the case. Our days dedicated to the dead come weekly, when every Saturday is dedicated to our loved ones who have passed on and we pray for them, as well certain special Saturdays throughout the Christian year. Also, our All Saints Day is celebrated the Sunday after Pentecost, which usually is celebrated in the Spring. Therefore, as I said above, we ought to keep Halloween, if we choose to keep it, as a cultural and seasonal holiday that has spiritual aspects in so much as they are natural and inspired of God, since in the autumn death permeates the atmosphere giving us much to contemplate about. For a Christian, such an atmosphere can aid in one's contemplation of death, for example, which is encouraged by the Church Fathers as an aid in one's spiritual life, as well help one to contemplate fallen creation and human nature which awaits future glory. My pet peeve however is when I hear Orthodox people bringing in a Christianized version of the holiday to replace the seasonal and cultural, thinking instead they are replacing it in opposition to the occultic aspects of the holiday. This to me shows a level of fear and vulnerability brought about by ignorance and possibly even lack of faith. I also don't like ideas using Halloween as an Orthodox enculturation tool to have children light candles before icons prior to being awarded with a piece of candy or any other such innovation. To me, it is not the proper response to the festivities.
9. I will not participate in any blasphemy on Halloween.
Blasphemy against God, the Church and the sacred is among the worst of sins and I will not take part in anything that encourages such things. Because of certain aspects of Halloween being paganized and secularized, and thanks to the ignorance of Christians who come out fully swinging against the holiday, it should not surprise us that the holy will be blasphemed. Last year (2009) on Halloween I saw a street preacher in Salem, Massachusetts being harassed for preaching against the "evil's" of Halloween, but this invited only blasphemy from certain hecklers in the crowd who were willing at least to listen. It basically was not the proper atmosphere nor the right approach. There are many ways this can take form on Halloween, just like it can on Christmas or Easter, so great care should be taken to not be a part of it.
10. I will not judge those who participate in Halloween to either a greater or lesser extent than I do.
Though I do have a gripe with extremists who I believe undermine Christianity, I do not have any problem with those who choose to either abstain from the celebrations or take it in head deep. Though Orthodox Christians should watch out to a certain extent for their brethren, for we are each other's keepers, we should be much more lenient towards non-Orthodox who are not bound by the same responsibilities we have as being guardians of the truth of the gospel of Christ. Our kindness and Christian representation should always show forth in a secular environment so that we do not undermine the hope that lies within us.
A pleasant Halloween to all!