Halloween as a Ritual of Mockery

James Jordan has a great article on Halloween that I’ve linked to for a few years now. While I disagree with his premise that somehow 31 October has nothing to do with pre-Christian European pagan practices, the way in which he presents Halloween as an opportunity to mock Satan is fascinating.

What is the means by which the demonic realm is vanquished? In a word: mockery. Satan’s great sin (and our great sin) is pride. Thus, to drive Satan from us we ridicule him. This is why the custom arose of portraying Satan in a ridiculous red suit with horns and a tail. Nobody thinks the devil really looks like this; the Bible teaches that he is the fallen Arch-Cherub. Rather, the idea is to ridicule him because he has lost the battle with Jesus and he no longer has power over us.

I think this should be a part of how churches celebrate the day (if they choose to at all), instead of lame harvest parties. We should boldly stand up and mock the dark forces of the world, who vainly attempt to undo what Jesus Christ did so long ago. Frankly, most of us do not live in agricultural settings, so the idea that the harvest means anything to us is odd. But, we all live in a world that experiences constant conflict between the triumphant Light of the World, and the defeated, crushed forces of the serpent.

This would have the added benefit not only of making a great celebration, but also it would instruct the churches in real spiritual warfare. While I acknowledge the existence of demonic forces, and while I know it can certainly cause real harm in a believer’s life, the way evangelicalism is terrified of the enemy is quite absurd. Satan is done, finished, and we need no longer fear him. His head has been crushed and his arms chained; Jesus’ resurrection put an end to his reign of darkness. This can and should be celebrated.

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On the Origins of Halloween

It would serve no purpose to pretend Halloween does not have at least some basis in pagan religious festivals. The ancient Scottish Gaelics did have a harvest/end of the year celebration that we as Christians would not be too keen to participate in. In this celebration there were, no doubt, a lot of themes of death and rebirth, of the end of the light world and beginning of the dark world and stories of the otherworld coming into contact with our own. It is doubtful there were human sacrifices, but some historians and anthropologists attempt to argue there were.

But that really doesn’t matter. Assigning evil to the modern pop culture celebration of Halloween because a long time ago there were pagan people who celebrated something similar around the same time makes no sense. In fact, it’s closer to the genetic fallacy than to any logical argument. Simply stated, just because the Gaelics celebrated Samhain does not mean when kids go trick-or-treating that they are worshiping the devil, or taking their eyes off of the glories of the cross of Christ.

Now, let me take the argument a bit further. While I would not equate Halloween (or even All Saints/Souls Day) with Christmas and Easter, it is true they all share common origins. The date we celebrate Christmas is closely related to multiple winter feasts of the ancient world. In fact, the word Yule, which is forever connected to Christmas, was originally a Germanic festival that may be connected to an even more ancient worship of Saturn in the Roman world.

Easter, as is well known, is connected not only to the Jewish celebration of Passover, but also to Anglo Saxon celebrations in honor of Eostre. In both of these cases, does the origin ruin the holiday? While the Puritans may have had problems with these holy days, and while there are modern fundamentalists who refuse to celebrate, most of the Christian world for the past 1200 years has celebrated Easter and Christmas at (roughly) the same time. The pagan origins do not denigrate what the celebration is actually all about.

And this brings me to my final point: that even though Halloween may be celebrated in a completely secular way, and even though it may owe some of its origins to pagan festivals, it owes at least as much or more to the Christian celebration of All Saints Day. The name Halloween, of course, comes from All Hallows Eve, the Western Christian holy day set apart to celebrate the victory of the Church in this world. On this day, which has connotations of darkness overcoming the light, we celebrate the triumph of light over darkness through Jesus Christ. This is no small matter.

Whether one celebrates this cultural holiday is up to the individual; I don’t mind either way. But if you choose not to celebrate, do it for reasons other than “pagan people a long time ago had something like this.”

Five Halloween Movies That Take Place on Halloween

Usually around this time people come up with lists of scary movies that you should watch. A lot of these have nothing to do with Halloween, they’re just scary (or just plain sick in the case of the Saw movies). For the first day of Halloween Week, I’m going to list my five favorite Halloween movies that actually take place on Halloween, and most of them aren’t really that scary, so you can watch with your kids.

Monster House

I love this movie. It reminds me of an 80s movie with modern technology, a CG Goonies. It’s not Pixar movie, but it’s funny, has great characters, and a very odd plot.

Something Wicked This Way Comes

I love Ray Bradbury’s original novel with a perfect love. No matter who you are, or where you grew up in the United States (can’t speak for any other country), this book takes you back to your childhood. The movie is very good as well.

E.T.

Speaking of childhood, ET may be the seminal film for those who grew up in the 80s. (Are you catching a theme with these movies).

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Okay, this one breaks my rules, but it’s a good movie (especially compared to the first two and the relative lack of soul of the fourth film), and it feels like most of it takes place around Halloween.

Halloween (1978)

How could I write a list like this without mentioning Halloween, one of the best 80s horror movies from a truly great director.

Honorable mentions: Karate Kid and Meet Me in St. Louis.