Thursday, October 16, 2008

Halloween: Finding a Balance

OK, I'm personally not a huge fan of Halloween - never have been, even as a kid. But now as an adult with kids of my own, I'm not at all religiously conflicted about it, as some seem to be. I don't worry that allowing my kids to go trick-or-treating once a year means that we are somehow participating in that which is "of the devil." For my own kids, their participation in Halloween only means participating in that which is "of the candy" - and that's it. At our house, we have never made a big theological issue of Halloween, and our kids have never exhibited any sort of a crisis of faith because they dress up in a costume and go trick-or-treating once a year. They know it's about fun - and not about anything more than that.

For our own simple Halloween traditions, we've encouraged our kids to stay away from macabre costumes, we've tended to stay away from houses that seem just a little too over-the-top in yard decorating, and we limit the amount of candy-collecting time they have (nobody needs to have that much candy around the house). We've mostly stuck to taking them to the homes of neighbors we know.

But whatever the origins of Halloween are - the observance has come a long way from druids and the sacrificing of livestock to appease the evil spirits. To my knowledge - none of that sort of thing goes on in my neighborhood. We have not concentrated on any "evil" aspect of the day (if there even is one anymore). For us it's about fun and candy, and that's pretty much it.

As I said in my previous post, I know some bishops and priests have come down pretty heavily, forbidding those in their jurisdictions and parishes from participating in any way - and of course those whose clergy and hiercharchs have have admonished their flocks not to participate must deal with this themselves - or not. But as for me and my house - our priests and heirarch have said nothing about it that I have heard or that I can find. And I have complete trust that if allowing our kids to go trick-or-treating on Halloween were, in fact, so perilous for our spiritual lives, our priests and bishop would address it publicly - and annually.

Ultimately, though, I think it's a question of balance. While we as Christians are to strive to live lives of faith and holiness, we aren't monastics. Unlike monastics, we have to live in the real world. More importantly, our kids do, too. So instead of forbidding our kids to participate because "it is evil," we tend to take the emphasis off fear and evil, and place it on fun, and let them have some on this day. It's as evil or as innocent as parents choose to make it. We can either make our kids afraid of that which is "of the world" (turning off our lights and locking our doors, refusing to answer with a piece of candy when trick-or-treaters arrive), or we can teach our kids to live in the world as Christians.

Steve Robinson put it very well in his comment on the last post, "we must engage culture instead of sitting in our churches casting stones at it." He's exactly right. I'd even take Steve's comment a little further to also say that we must engage culture instead of running away and hiding from it or pretending that it just doesn't exist.

Now this doesn't mean that there aren't some things to which parents must just say "no," - there are many such things. I'm just not sure Halloween is one of them.

(All that being said, I don't really understand why some parents who are so concerned about keeping Halloween evil out of their homes don't seem to be as concerned about television and computers with internet access, where evil abounds and preys unceasingly on our children. And I don't really understand why those aforementioned clergy and hierarchs choose to make a big deal of what they perceive to be a one-day-of-the-year "evil," while completely ignoring all of the other evils which confront us and our children every day.

But perhaps I can blame my lack of understanding about such things on convert ignorance ...

Anyway, here's another good Halloween option for Orthodox Christians, complete with Orthodox guidelines.


-C said...

Here ends all of my musings on Halloween - unless, of course, my priests or hierarch come out with an admonishment forbidding us to participate in it in any way.

In this instance, of course, I will then write a post about submission and obedience.


s-p said...

Good thoughts all around. It really bugs me when people TELL me what I am doing when I do something they don't like. As Orthodox apologists we tell Protestants "Don't tell me I'm worshipping Mary and the saints when I pray to them...I know I'm not, how could you possibly know that I AM?" But then an Orthodox person will tell me I'm encouraging and participating in demonic activity and pagan ritual if I dress up like Ronald McDonald and ask people for candy. No I'm not. The bottom line is, this is a PASTORAL call on an individual level. SOME people shouldn't do Halloween because of their spiritual state. Fortunately not all of us are in that state. If you are, don't do it. Just don't tell me I am you, thank you. I'll work MY salvation out with MY spiritual father. I had someone tell me we should do a vigil for Sts. Cosmas and Damian instead of trick or treating. I replied, how about we do the vigil, pray for the non-Orthodox and then go engage them like Cosmas and Damian did when they converted a whole nation? End of rant. I now return you to your regularly scheduled pumpkin carving.