“What is Halloween?” Sam asked me today, and I found myself wondering. We checked it out on Wikipedia, and I was amazed at the length of the article and the amazing number of traditions around the world. Maria and I have always had a vaguely uncomfortable feeling about this particular festival, which seems to be growing in popularity in both Australia and Sweden. Like Christmas, it has become a commercialized opportunity for parties and feasting and dressing up and eating sweets! Nobody much seems to think about its significance.
Wikipedia suggests that Christians have varying responses to Halloween, some seeing it as harmless and others seeing it as a potentially dangerous recruiting time for witches, with the danger that children will “convert”. Other Christians focus not so much on Halloween (the name itself comes from the Christian tradition of All Hallows Eve) but on the day after, which is All Saints Day. Apparently some Wiccans also see Halloween as offensive, because it trivializes their festival, promoting an inaccurate caricature of witches. Certainly the date of Halloween is significant for witches who follow occult traditions.
It seems the timing of Halloween comes from the ancient Celtic celebration of Samhain, which was the time which for them represented the “descent into darkness”, since October 31 marked the last day of the “bright half of the year.” The Celts believed that on that date there was a blurring of the boundary between life and death and communication with the spirits of the ancestors became possible.
Various popes back in the 7th and 8th centuries were responsible for setting November 1 as All Saints Day, and October 31 as All Hallows Eve. All Saints Day was intended as a time to honour all the saints, both alive and dead. The fascinating thing is that the popes apparently had no knowledge of Celtic traditions and festivals, and the fact that Samhain and All Saints Day both honoured the dead, and both fell on the same day, was purely coincidental.
Amazingly enough, ancient Norse religion also celebrated a festival around this time of year, called the älfablöt, or elven blöt, which involved sacrifices to the elves and the blessing of food. Elves were powers connected to the ancestors; this particular festival was part of the animistic tradition of the old Norse religion of the Vikings, which has apparently recently been revived by a new religious movement in Iceland.
So how will we celebrate Halloween? Not at all, is my suspicion. I can identify with the ending of “the bright half of the year” and the “descent into darkness”. There is a feeling of transition now up here in the North. Even if the witches and the neo-Vikings see this time as significant I don’t think we have any need to fear their influence over us or our children. We firmly believe in the protection of the Holy Spirit in the “heavenly realms. As believers in a spiritual reality we strangely have something more in common with the occultists and neo-pagans than with the secularists who surround us and who are exploited so mercilessly by the materialist society of which we are a part.
At least now I will have something to answer the kids questions as we head north tomorrow to Orsa.