David Cloake at The Vernacular Curate explores the dilemma of Halloween and whether or not Christians – and in particular clergy families - should celebrate this festival. In our clergy household we did not do Halloween, anyone who rang the doorbell was greeted with the standard response, “We are a Christian family, and we do not celebrate Halloween.” In my teens I increasingly found it all rather embarrassing, especially as some despondent little kid headed down the vicarage path, no doubt thinking, “I only wanted a lollipop, mister.”
To be absolutely fair to my parents (will my mother ever forgive me for this post?) I enjoyed several Halloween parties in my teens, and went out trick and treating with friends and my parents never really interfered with this. I really think it was more a personal matter and maybe that they didn’t think it entirely appropriate for the Vicar to be encouraging a pagan festival.
It may a reaction, or it may be a reflection on my parlous state, but I really enjoy Halloween now. I don’t have a problem with it, although I respect the views of those who do. I think it is great fun for children, it is wonderfully spooky and fuels the imagination, I love the costumes and it adds a splash of colour to the beginning of the dark days of the year.
Halloween also reminds me of the old superstitions and traditions, and of our roots in pagan beliefs and festivals. My mum grew up in a tiny hamlet, Feizor , in North Yorkshire. We often visited as children and my parents pointed out that the house she grew up in had a witches’ seat on the chimney stack. Witches’ seats or stones were simply ledges left jutting out so that the witch could rest during her journey and would not cast malevolent spells upon the household. Many of our forebears would have had some belief in witches, even if this did as usual involve women getting the blame. In 1603 King James wrote his Demonology, considered a very erudite work upon magic, witchcraft and sorcery.
I love the link to that bygone age, it is part of our heritage (yes, I know trick and treat is an American invention – who cares – you get free sweets!) Also a lot of our best literature draws on the supernatural, Macbeth, Faustus, The Crucible and The Turn of the Screw all use witches, ghosts and magic, partly as an aid to explore our moral choices and questions of good and evil. It may be a pushing it just a little to try and claim that Halloween still keeps in our secular consciousness a sense of the opposition between good and evil, but I do think that some of our modern day children’s literature with supernatural themes, most notably the Harry Potter series, often frame such questions.
So, this Sunday afternoon we shall carve the pumpkin and later light it and put it outside. Anyone calling for sweets will get them with our blessing.