16 February 2019
Halloween - The time of the Saints
Greetings to the Saints of St Johns and St Philips Parish
This year we are having a children’s party on Halloween, Monday October 31. It will be an All Saints’ party and the Boys and Girls brigades are invited along with our children’s programme children who are the hosts. But why do this? Halloween is ambiguous as a time of celebration in New Zealand – we look on it as an American import where it is celebrated as part of the church year. And those of Scottish Presbyterian ancestry may well consider it a time of superstitions [quite correct!] and to be avoided , but even in Scotland and in Ireland Halloween has been marked in the church for centuries.
So what is its background?
For over a thousand years November 1, or All Saints Day, has been on the Christian calendar. The name Halloween is old English and is a reference to the evening before All Hallow's Day, known today as All Saints, on Nov. 1. The feast of All Saints, celebrated by Christians is a celebration of the numerous faithful men and women of history who have died, who serve as examples to us of Christian living. It was established on this date by Pope Gregory III in the 8th century, and soon was observed universally by the whole Church.
From the beginning, this Christian feast of remembrance included a vigil, meaning that services and activities of preparation for the feast began on the night before. In England, this feast became known as Hallowmas, referring to the mass of All Hallow's Day (cf. Christmas, Candlemas), and the vigil on the night before was called Hallowe'en, short for Hallow's Even.
Before this Christian observance began, there had already been a custom in the British Isles associated with these same days but as with many other customs were taken over by the Christian faith and came to understand the victory of life over death and light over darkness.
Halloween traditions in America have been influenced by all that has gone before, as immigrants from Britain, Europe, and Mexico brought their religious and folk customs with them. Halloween as a night of spirits, mischief and frolic continue to this day. The ancient practice of costuming, to ward off evil spirits, has combined with the 17th century house visits by Irish peasants, to give us the visits of costumed children seeking candy, a very recent 20th century development in the tradition. Lighted pumpkins survive from the old bonfires burning in honour of the dead. Parties with games for adults and children continue to add fun to the season. Cider and bobbing for apples remind us of the season's ancient link with the Roman fruit goddess Pomona. Signs of Halloween's traditional association with the Christian feast of All Saints and remembrance of the faithful departed remain in the images of death.
It is important for us to connect with and even reinterpret in the light of Christ the festivals which take place in our own society, in New Zealand, today. So on October 31 we will be saying that light prevails and darkness may scare but not forever.
We have an advantage as in this country we are entering the season of light -not the dark of winter as in the Northern Hemisphere. We will play games and remember what God has done for us. The children will not be wandering around the streets but playing together and having fun
While both Christianity and folk custom have blended to give us the Halloween we know today, it is also apparent that the entire tradition has helped people socially and psychologically to confront death and things which perhaps frighten us. So it is with all the Halloween traditions. While Christian scripture speaks of death as being the last enemy (1 Corinthians 15:26), it also speaks of not being afraid of it because we are baptized into Christ (Romans 6:3-4). Nor should we fear evil or the devil (Psalm 23:4). Or witches or black cats or anything else (Psalm 118:6).
So we are reclaiming Halloween and instead of leaving a vaccum for our children to fill with fearful superstitions, as some celebrate Halloween, we are using it to teach our children appropriate Christian traditions about this holiday.
In many Christian churches and homes there is now the custom of putting a light in the window on Halloween to give the message that the light has come into the world and the darkness cannot put it out. – It is something you might like to do in your own homes. When you neighbours ask why – tell them is a symbol of the light of the world, Jesus Christ who bring love, light and hope for everyone, even in the darkest night.
The church must not suffer the amnesia that withholds the treasures we have in our stories and customs and our ability to connect. .We can reclaim All Saints Eve and look around us to see the close-at-hand saints in our daily lives and give God thanks. Also! look in your own mirror and by the grace of God see the face of someone who knows God loves them and accepts them and whose is changed as a result..
We hope our little saints enjoy their party on Monday October 31, [let us know if you have any in your family who want to come] and that also that like the saints that have gone before us they are given a clarity about what passes for the good life but is phony at the core. That they know that they too reflect the light of Christ .
Margaret Anne Low
Rev. Margaret Anne Low
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