Halloween, or How difficult it is to be this uptight

When I was a little girl, on a random Sunday morning one autumn, a chap stood up to address my church. I noticed this, because he was a) someone whom I had never seen addressing the church before, though I had seen him playing an electric organ there on many occasions, and b) I wasn’t usually there when people stood up to address the church. This wasn’t the sermon, when I would normally be in Sunday School with all the other little darlings, this was an additional message for the church, and it caught my attention.

The chap concerned – Keith, his name was – had stood up to regale the church about the the evilnesses that schools were inflicting on their children under the guise of Halloween. Witches, wizards, ghosts and gouls, spells and potions – it was all bad, and evil, and wrong, and the children’s heads were being filled with it all.

His message hit home, with me at least. I was nine. I realise now, of course, that his message wasn’t targeted at my nine-year-old self. It was aimed at my thirty-something-year-old parents, who needed to Be Aware of the Danger, and Do Something About It. But I was there, I was listening, he didn’t explicitly exclude me from his intended audience, and in my innocence, I took his message to heart.

School that week was very uncomfortable for me. Mr Liddle, in his wisdom, had decided to use a large navy blue sheet to mock up a kind of a spooky corner at one end of our classroom. I forget the details of what was in there, or what we were expected to do about it, but I remember the overwhelming feeling of wanting to avoid the Halloween corner, because it was BadAndWrongAndWickedAndEvil. I said nothing. I just fretted. And, a bit, hated myself for not telling Mr Liddle about the BadAndWrongAndWickedAndEvil, thereby enabling him to see the error of his ways, and take the blue sheet down.

Imagine my relief, then, when he came over to where I was sitting, and said, “You’re not at all happy about all this, are you?” I shook my head, miserably. He smiled at me encouragingly, and my spirits lifted. He understood! About the dilemma of BadAndWrongAndWickedAndEvil. He’d stop, now. He’d take the sheet down, and stop.

Oddly enough, the unarticulated discomfort of a nine-year-old girl was not enough for Mr Liddle to change his plan for the week’s lessons. I quite see, now, that it would be an extremely odd state of affairs if it had, but the realisation that the Halloween stuff was going ahead anyway, in SPITE of that conversation, was something of a blow, at the time. I avoided it as far as possible, and took comfort in the fact that once Halloween is over, it’s downhill all the way to Christmas, a festival I felt much more comfortable with.

I’m telling you this story, because I still get that feeling about Halloween. That uncomfortable feeling that I’d prefer it just not to be there. That it would be better for everyone if we just didn’t do it. All the spooky-spooky programmes on CBBC; the trick-or-treating; the randomly ghoulish fancy-dress of the staff in the Pizza Hut – all of it. Bobbing for apples, is, as far as I can tell, harmless, but my gut instinct is to bob for them another time. So that it’s a fun game, rather than a Halloween Activity.

We carved pumpkins in church*, on Sunday. My initial reaction was pretty much the same as that of the nine-year-old in Mr Liddle’s class – Why? It’s uncomfortable. It’s associated with the BadAndWrongAndWickedAndEvil, and it’s not necessary. Why would we choose to do something that’s neither comfortable nor necessary?

Well, I can tell you that, having never carved a pumpkin in my life before, it’s a lot of fun. We sort of justified the event by discussing All Saints Day, and the remembering of Those Who Have Gone Before, which seems like a very Catholic thing to do, for someone of my religious background, but not beyond the pale. Besides, we all knew that we were REALLY there to carve pictures into fruit, because that’s fun. And you can’t get a pumpkin for love nor money at any other time of year, so unless you want to switch to carving strawberries or clementines, it’s not easy to break the link with a certain late-October festival. But I really wanted to.

It’s all part of a very confused thought process surrounding a great number of things, of which Halloween is the pinnacle. I blame Keith from church – I think I’ve probably been confused from that day forward.

I am not against Harry Potter. I have friends who are, and when I’m with them, I feel lax, and naive, and foolish, and like I’m taking massive spiritual risks with my children’s well-being and future. But I have other friends who produce pumpkins to carve in church situations, and when I’m with THEM, I feel uptight, paranoid, and like I need to Get A Grip.

Don’t tell me that I primarily need to drop the angst over what other people think. I know that already.

I’m definitely not against dressing up – I love that my seven-year-old still dresses up, and whilst finding dressing up clothes to fit her is getting trickier (apparently, dressing up is an under-fives activity), I think it’s a fabulous part of being a child. But perhaps not dressing up on the night of BadAndWrongAndWickedAndEvil, in case that which is usually fine suddenly becomes BadAndWrongAndWickedAndEvil, by association (I’ve now got “BadAndWrongAndWickedAndEvil” in my Copy-And-Paste clipboard, because it’s awkward to type).

Can you see how utterly tangled up and irrational my thinking is on this? I’m finding it all very confusing.

So, yesterday, I did what I often do when I have no clear idea of what I think about something. I talked to my dad about it. And, in the way that he very often does, he threw some very interesting light on the thing for me. What if, he said, Halloween is actually necessary? What if there is genuinely BadAndWrongAndWickedAndEvil, in terms of real spiritual influences, but that the stuff that goes on at Halloween – the dressing up, the pumpkin carving, the being delightfully scared, but not TOO scared – what if the role of those things is specifically to fulfil a need in us to acknowledge the scary. What if, without it, many more people would be driven to seek out the genuinely BadAndWrongAndWickedAndEvil spiritual experiences? What if Harry Potter and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, rather than opening us up to such things, actually protect us from them?

I had honestly never considered such an angle before, and I’m still working out whether I think it’s valid or not. It does sound a little like precisely the argument one might construct if one was seeking to justify something that was actually BadAndWrongAndWickedAndEvil. But it certainly gave me some food for thought.

Don’t get me wrong, I remain very much against Trick-or-Treating – it amounts to demanding sweets with menaces, and is a no-brainer, as far as I’m concerned. But maybe I might just calm down a bit over the rest of it.

* For the record, whatever picture entered your mind when I used the word “church” just there, I can guarantee it was more formal and structured than the way we are currently spending our Sunday mornings. Picture a dozen people hanging out at someone’s house, carving pumpkins and cooking lunch.

4 thoughts on “Halloween, or How difficult it is to be this uptight

  1. Sorry Ruth I didn’t see that you had posted this! Interesting reading. Did your family celebrate Halloween? What did most of the people in your church do at that time?

    I wasn’t brought up in a church (or not regularly, my mum was a believer but we didn’t go often so didn’t have to conform to anything), although trick or treating wasn’t done by any of my friends until I was at least a teenager, and I don’t remember much about halloween either. We did have penny for the guy which I read stopped mostly when people started trick or treating. Once it was in fashion we were too old, but my mum would not have let us go trick or treating. Then again they didn’t take me to fireworks either, I didn’t see any until I went with friends when I was maybe 15! (Neither did I eat rice, pasta or pizza until I left home, but that’s a different story!)
    I know your dad is right about children needing to experience being scared in a controlled manner – that is what fairy tales are for too! So yes that is a good reason for halloween. Mostly I guess I have no preconceived ideas, and therefor no negative impressions (other than trick or treating of course, but that was added on between 1930 and 1939), and definitely loved everything from the worst witch, to buffy to harry potter (but not the lion, the witch and the wardrobe which I thought was rather tedious!)and see no reason children shouldn’t play at magic when we teach them about Father Christmas, the Tooth Fairy, and a God that they can’t see or feel – oh, wait, maybe that is part of the concern!! :)

    Seriously though, I can remember very vividly being a child who believed in magical things in a wonderful way because everything is magical and unknown, and it was a very nice and alive state to be in. And I had no negative feelings as I became aware of the magic.

  2. Thank you for allowing me to read your blog.

    I have had to confront a lot of my own beliefs regarding Halloween since moving to the UK as it simply wasn’t as big a thing when we left Australia.

    I have always been on the more conventional side of it anyway, largely due to my involvement in inner healing/prayer ministry… I’ve always taken the view (perhaps simplistically), why do/allow something that may need to be done undone. I started to notice that there were things that popped up more regularly at these things.

    I do find it interesting when I have managed to have chats with Pagan and Wiccan’s, that they don’t understand why a Christian would celebrate it, and while they have always been very engaging and respectful, some, find it somewhat irritating that the church tried to assimilate their practices for the sake of church growth.

    Of course, it is no different to the churches attempt to be culturally relevant today, when you stop and think about it.

    It is not for us. We are also one of ‘those families’ who don’t do Harry Potter, Santa and The Easter Bunny. We have done the Tooth Fairy as she’s not mixed up in any quasi pagan/Christian celebration.

    We do read mythical books and have done Twilight (as they are mythical creatures).

    For me it is all about the gut. If I have a quickening, niggle or feeling, we just don’t go there without prayerful, chat and consideration (coz yup, I have gotten it wrong).

    But to be honest, I would rather get it wrong on the side of caution than on permissiveness. But hey, that’s just me!

    Many of my friends, ministers, and good Christian people don’t agree with me, and that’s ok. Others have had their grown children move away from Christ, because of a belief formed in childhood, that if their parents lied about Santa/Easter Bunny etc, then maybe Jesus was just a story too.

    At the end of the day, it’s why it is called a personal relationship with Jesus.

    What may be an issue for me, might not be for someone else, and what might be for them, is not for me.

    So I don’t think there is any right or wrong necessarily with some of these things. More that they come under Romans 14 type issues.

    I would have liked to have carved a pumpkin this year, just didn’t happen. Not for Halloween, but because I would have liked to give it ago. It has been frustrating to me, that ‘real’ pumpkins aren’t available longer and throughout the year. It was a major part of our diet in Oz.

    Thanks again Ruth.

    Hope you manage to clarify your thoughts- for you!

    Kindly

    Ria

  3. Hi, Kirsty and Ria,

    I’m intrigued by the mix of things you do/don’t “do”. We’ve never done Santa or the Tooth Fairy, either, because it felt a lot like lying – pretending something was true, when we knew it wasn’t, and then looking all astonished when the children turn round and say, “Well, if you said THAT was true, how do I believe you about God?” We talk about it in terms of a game. People can choose to play the Father Christmas game, but it’s just a game, it’s pretend.

    By the same token, I don’t really struggle with things that are clearly pretend, which make HP and similar fine, by my reckoning. Pretending magic is real is just like pretending Sci Fi is real – it’s fiction, we all know the score.

    The things that make me more uncomfortable are the things that feel “dark”. I watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but felt vaguely uncomfortable with it, I think because of the element of an “underworld” that it had. It wasn’t just about strange monsters in this world, they were spiritual enemies. I watched Charmed for a good while, too, and in some ways that was worse that way (as well as being the most unspeakable trash that I really shouldn’t have given the time of day to!).

    I still haven’t worked out the answers. I don’t know if I ever shall.

    R
    x

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