Friday, October 31, 2003

The BBC website has a timely article on Halloween. As well as suggesting that demands for money with menaces ('trick or treat') is a dubious activity, and the dangers to children of going around the streets at night, it has some interesting and well balanced things to say about Christian difficulties with Halloween. (Sadly it doesn't state the truth that the rise of Halloween to the universally observed festival that it now is has much to do with American card companies!) It notes that "for some Christians, Halloween is a danger because it flirts with the powers of darkness, and encourages children to explore the occult". It's an argument that one hears quite a lot, and which has had a new emphasis in the light of the Harry Potter phenomenon and the success of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

I'm not convinced that children fail to distinguish truth and fiction, especially in Harry Potter. I do think that there is a danger that they will search the internet for sites on witches or whatever, and find something that is unable to tell the difference between fact and fantasy. But that danger will not go away by pretending it's not there. The danger is that by forbidding access to the fictional accounts of Halloween, Harry Potter, Buffy or whatever children will begin to think there is more to them than fiction.

The irony, of course, is that Halloween is parasitical on the decidedly Christian festival of All Saints (All Hallows in old language). Christians celebrate the communion of all the saints, past, present and future, in the Kingdom of God. Halloween is a sort of shadow side to this. Ghosts and ghouls, vampires and witches are one thing, but they point to the shadow side of Christianity. Witches, in particular, were persecuted by Christians in ways that not only bring shame, but which point to the way in which a male-dominated Christianity oppressed women and maintained its own power over people by scapegoating others. These are profoundly anti-Christian themes to Halloween, but ones which Christians would do well to pay a bit more attention. Let us not pretent that Christian scapegoating is a thing of the past. Can we really celebrate All Saints without recognising the truths to which Halloween points us?

So there will be chocolate for any trick or treaters who call at the Curate's house. Partly out of a desire not to turn away children, but partly also out of a recognition that Christians and Christianity are complicit in many of the evils that they seek to confront. On Buffy, Halloween is the one night of the year that the creatures of darkness take time off and don't threaten the world. It would be nice to think that this were possible, just for one night. But Buffy inevitably ends up fighting some bad guys (human or otherwise) that don't abide by this rule. Christians must fight too, but they must fight the real enemy and not pretend that they are totally innocent.

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