Halloween approaches . . . . .
If you have managed to get out and about recently, you cannot fail to have noticed the beauty of this season. I love the start of Autumn . . . . the lovely hues of red and orange – the hints of gold and varieties of green. It is all very stunning . . . . God is a spectacular artist!
With Autumn comes the marking of two feast days in some churches. All Saints Day and All Souls Day. And of-course, the end of October also brings HALLOWEEN …..
There are, we know, different schools of thought with regard to Halloween. I am a bit in both camps – I have never approved of some of the unkind antics that some young people get up to, but I do absolutely LOVE the pumpkins! (And the chocolates!)
There is much said about Halloween. What I understand (briefly) is that Halloween originates back in an ancient Celtic festival of ʻSamhainʼ (pronounced Sow-in) meaning ʻSummerʼs endʼ. The Celts lived over 2,000 years ago, mostly in Ireland, and celebrated their New Year on 1 November. The night before, 31 October, was the celebration of Samhain when, they believed, the barrier between worlds was breachable enabling ghosts of the dead to return to earth.
In the 5th century the festival was moved to May by Pope Boniface but in the 9th century Pope Gregory 111 moved it back and designated November 1 as a time to honour all saints and all martyrs. The evening before was known as All Hallows Eve, which later became Halloween. In AD 1000, the church made 2 November All Souls Day – a day for us to honour the dead, in an attempt to turn a pagan festival into a religious one.
The Irish people had carved demonic faces out of turnips to frighten away a mythological lost soul “Stingy Jack” and other evil spirits. They would put the carved turnips by their doors and windows for protection. Pumpkins replaced turnips when Irish immigrants moved to America, as pumpkins were native to the regions. Halloween overtime evolved into a secular day of activities, which included trick-or-treating, carving Jack-o-lanterns (pumpkins), festive gatherings , the donning of costumes and eating treats.
Retail wise, Halloween has been huge in America for a long time, and so it is now in the UK. A Halloween tea for children can be a lot of fun…. and certainly the carving of pumpkins has long been very common. Some carvings are very intricate, with no sense of the sinister whatsoever. But for those with a Christian faith, Halloween often brings a dilemma . . .
Can we find God in Halloween? Letʼs try by looking at the pumpkins . . . . .
Think about how you choose your pumpkin. I was buying one a few days ago, and I looked through a box of them to find the best I could . . . I wanted to choose a nice, perfect round one – one that was shiny and unblemished on the outside. We all like pumpkins that look perfect.
The exterior of any pumpkin is tough and can be hard to puncture.
Can we say that is true of ourselves? Iʼm sure that most of you reading this will have made mistakes, we have probably all done things we regretted, but we might try to keep them hidden inside thinking that no-one can see passed our tough exteriors.
God chooses us and, if we let him, will wash off all the dirt.. People can only see our outside, but Christians believe that God can see the inside as well.
“The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance but the Lord looks at the heart”.
1 Samuel 16: 7
The first thing we do when we work on our pumpkin is to take the top off and begin scooping out the innards. The slimy, gungy inside can remind us of the things we have done that we choose to keep hidden away inside. As we pull that stuff out of our pumpkins, we can think of the wrong things we have done, that of which we are ashamed. That can make us feel pretty grim inside. But God can help us scoop out all that stuff … those seeds of sin, doubt, anger and greed.
“I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you” Ezekiel 36: 25b-26.
Then we carve the pumpkin – we carve out eyes and a mouth – just as we have been given eyes to see, and a mouth to speak
“The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light”. Matthew 6:22
But if we just leave the pumpkin with all the insides scooped out, it remains hollow. An ʻempty shellʼ. Once we put in a lighted candle the pumpkin takes on a new life. In the same way, we need to have a light inside ourselves that will truly bring us to life. God carves us with a smiling face, and puts his light inside us for all the world to see. We glow with the light of Christ.
“Jesus said: I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of lifeʼ.” John 8:12
Just as the people of the past believed in the prowling around of evil, we all know there is still evil in this world. Just as Samhain acknowledged the transition from summer to winter, from life to death, All Hallows Eve reminds us that the barrier between the physical and the spiritual is very thin . . . but as Christians we believe that God is with us in both life and death.
We cannot avoid Halloween, indeed there is no point in ignoring something that exists around us . . and which indeed has a lot of ʻfunʼ attachments to it. But we can use this time as an opportunity to share that which we believe: ʻThe light will shine in the darkness, and the darkness will not overcome it . . . . .ʼ
Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven (Matthew 5:16)
With my love to you and your families . . . and during this week may your carving be joyful!
A Traditional Scottish Prayer:
From ghoulies and ghosties and long-leggedy beasties and things that go bump in the night, Good Lord, deliver us!