Browsing Tag

Halloween

Social Issues

night of the saints and the fairies

I only went trick-or-treating once.

I was around five years old, and my mother made me a princess costume. It came with a medieval hat with a crocheted veil, and I remember wearing that hat for days after Halloween was over, and I kept it for years as part of my “dress up” toys. At some point it disappeared– probably donated– and even though I had outgrown dress up a long time before, a part of me mourned. Perhaps it’s because I’d only gone trick-or-treating that one night, but there was something magical about those memories.

When we moved to Iceland, our church held a “harvest festival” and I dressed up as Flower from My Little Pony– it would be the last time I’d wear a costume anywhere near October 31st. When we landed in the cultish fundamentalist church, we did everything we could to distance ourselves from Halloween; we still had some sort of harvest celebration every year, but the date always moved because it lined up with the hay and alfalfa harvest in November. There was never any candy or costumes, although we went on hayrides, navigated hay-bale obstacle courses, and there was always gigantic pots of chili and Southern corn bread.

They were some of the best times that I can remember from my church, but they still make me a little sad because it’s one more thing I wish I could have experienced growing up.

I finally got to celebrate Halloween in graduate school. I cobbled together a costume, went to a couple of parties every year. Watched a lot of zombie movies. One year I curled up under a blanket with a friend and watched Dracula for the first time– the Keanu Reeves/Gary Oldman/Winona Ryder version.

And I fell in love with Halloween. I don’t think it’s possible for me to have a favorite holiday, but Halloween is definitely up there.

I fell in love with it for a few reasons.

When I started celebrating the holiday, I started doing it without a whole lot of examination. I’d grown up being told it was evil and celebrating darkness and the occult, but I never really researched all of those claims. I found a few respectable scholars making totally conflicting arguments about the origins of the holiday, so I thought screw it and dressed up like a hippie. At first it was just to kick back and have fun on a weekend, to appreciate everyone’s costumes and eat way way too much chocolate.

But, after a while, it wasn’t just those superficial things anymore. I noticed the magic of this holiday– the magic of a child’s imagination let free to run wild, the magic of embracing the mysteries and life and death that we’ll never fully comprehend this side of the Styx and Jordan. I saw how much power all of these things have. Halloween is special because it asks us to confront things we’d probably wish didn’t exist, and to imagine and for at least one night believe that there is something bigger, something other.

I’ve been reading a lot about Samhain over the last few months, and there’s one thing that’s consistently stood out to me: the idea that Samhain functions as a sort of “thin place” from Celtic spirituality. Scholars call this liminality, or “threshold,” and while the ancient Gaelic peoples believed that Samhain was a time when spirits could touch our world more easily, there’s a similar tradition in Christianity: many Christians have believed that there are places and times where the Divine is more easily felt.

To me, Halloween is one of those times, for reasons I can’t quite articulate. Perhaps it’s because Halloween is linked to All Saint’s Day and All Soul’s Day, the period in the liturgical calender when we remember the dead and the fallen. To me, this is what makes Halloween special: there is a sacredness to remembering the dead, but Halloween allows us to remember our dead with joy. Our children, the embodiment of life and youth, dress up as ghouls and ghosts and skeletons, and every year we’re handed the irony on our front porches. Playfulness, imagination, humor– all wrapped up in a Holiday dedicated to preparing us for the dark winter ahead. Halloween asks us to face the darkness with creativity and imagination and joy.

I don’t really think there’s anything more Christian than that.

Theology

faith of a child

I’d been in South Carolina for five days when it happened.

My mom and her friend Sandy* had driven up from Florida to attend a ladies’ retreat, which had been entertaining, and then we attended a Revival that week at Sandy’s father’s church. That week, the evangelist preached several “salvation” messages (a message focused on delivering the gospel and an eventual call to the altar to pray the Sinner’s Prayer), leading up to Thursday night. That night, he read A Physicians’ View of the Crucifixion of Christ. It was bloodthirsty, and violent, and terrifying. I’d never heard anything like it.

Jesus did all of that . . . for me? I remember thinking, shocked and horrified at the brutalities he had suffered.

~~~~

I was five years old the first time I encountered the idea of “Jesus coming into your heart.” I was in Sunday school, a few days before Halloween, and I remember the Sunday school teacher turning all of the lights off, and lighting a large pumpkin-scented candle. He described the ancient rites of the Druids, how they would travel from house to house, and the parents would surrender their children for the sacrifice. The druids would lay the little girl on a table, cut her skin off, and burn it over a candle lit in a pumpkin. He said they did this to bring the evil spirits into every home– it was part of the deal the Druids had negotiated to keep the demons away the rest of the year.

But, he said, that didn’t actually work. The only thing that can keep demons away is Jesus. Demons will never bother you if you ask Jesus into your heart to protect you.

I went home, silent. I stayed quiet all day. I didn’t know what to do. How did you ask Jesus to come into your heart? Did you just have to say it? Did you have to burn a candle? Was there a certain way you had to sit, or stand, or kneel?

Halloween came, and I was desperate, terrified. I lay in bed, positive that the shadows would come alive and devour me.

Jesus, please come into my heart. Please. I don’t want the demons to take me away. Please don’t let them get me. Jesus, please, I remember praying for hours that night.

~~~~

I was seven the first time I saw a baptism. I connected the dots and realized that if you’d “prayed to ask Jesus to come into your heart,” then you were supposed to get baptized. I asked my mother, she said we’d talk to someone at church. The lady we talked to took me into another room, away from my mother, and asked me if I’d ever asked Jesus into my heart. I said yes.

She didn’t exactly believe me, if the inquisition that followed was any indication. I didn’t understand what she was talking about. Had I repented? Did I know what hell was? I was bewildered, and then frustrated. The end result was that I didn’t get baptized– until a year later, when I found out what the “answers” to those questions were.

~~~~

So, in South Carolina, when I was eleven, I realized something. I had never really understood any of the answers. I knew how to say the words– I could list off the Roman’s Road with ease, but I’d had no idea what any of it meant. Jesus had died for me. Me. My sin. Mine alone.

Oh.

I knew that what logically followed a revelation like that was “getting saved,” so I decided I’d go down for the altar call I knew was coming in about twenty minutes. Then I stopped- what if the Rapture happens before then? People who knew they were supposed to get saved before the Rapture happens will be given over to a “reprobate mind.” I couldn’t let that happen.

I led myself through the Roman’s Road, right there in the pew, and prayed the Sinner’s Prayer I knew by heart.

~~~~

A dozen years later I was re-examining everything I ever thought I knew. What does it mean to be a Christian? What is this whole “getting saved” business? What’s Arminianism? What is Calvinism– actually, and not what I’d been told Calvinism was by Arminians. Wait– Molinism? That’s interesting.

Hold on, ignore all of that.

What does the Bible say the gospel is?

And, I realized, that, in the Bible, it’s fairly simple. You’re a sinner. God loves you. Jesus is God’s son. He was crucified, and here’s the kicker– he defeated death. He took your sin.

That’s it. It’s really not that complicated. I decided to forget all of the labels, and all of the methods, and all of the processes. I didn’t care any more if I had free will or was predestined, because it’s all the same in the end anyway– at least, when it comes to this. I didn’t care if I had a “lightbulb moment” that I could turn to in moments of “doubting my salvation.” I didn’t need it. I didn’t need a Sinner’s Prayer, or an altar call, or for someone to “declare” me a child of God. I just was. I just¬†am.¬†

*all names changed

Photo by Nathaniel Hayag