Woe to Halloween?
Please note that the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by the author of this essay do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of the Editor or this publication.
"But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut up the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither go in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in." (Matt. 23:13)
These are harsh words for those who should be the examples par excellence for the spiritual upbringing of the Jewish people around them. What if these harsh words are extended to our hierarchs? First off, one has to assume that our bishops know exactly what they are doing and where they're going for doing it. However, when it comes to certain social issues, I find that perhaps they don't know.
The gospel read during the secular American day of Halloween seems to send a spiritual message, not for those laypeople, but for those who inherited the holy high priesthood of Melchizedek, not of Aaron. And why so harsh? St. James seems to give us the answer: "My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment." (Jas. 3:1) Perhaps, all of us whom also set examples and take the position of teaching, through Sunday Schools, e-zines, missionary work, even pronounced zeal among colleagues or friends, should read this gospel of woe and examine ourselves. For we not only affect ourselves, but also those who we teach.
May God forgive me if I do really shut up the kingdom against those who innocently celebrate Halloween. I did not come from Egypt. I was born American and actually experienced American culture. I was not told of how one celebrates Halloween or what people do in Halloween. I have seen what they have done and I have done them myself. It is a no different fun social occasion than going to the beach, theme park, or gatherings and parties. There will be evil things and there will be good things. There will be tares among the wheat. Woe to me that I may cut a whole harvest, ignoring the good wheat.
"The 'Halloween' celebration pays tribute to Satan. Every act revolving around Halloween is in honor of false gods. False gods are spirits in the Satanic realm," Bishop Youssef writes in his diocesan letter entitled Halloween. So, when I dressed up as a funny circus clown and walked around asking for candy from door to door as a little child among other children, I and the neighborhood, composed of secular, atheistic, Protestant, and Catholic people, somehow were Satanists for just this one day, knowing that they pay tribute to Satan through Jolly Ranchers and Reese's. This is the same malarkey that you can read from chick.com, the fundamentalist Protestant site that also spits ignorant vile against Catholic and Orthodox Churches. There is an idea that the origins of Halloween come from the Celtic worship of 'Samhain' (pronounced Sa-ween), which rhymes with Halloween. That sounds as childish as Colbert's childish yet genius comedy skit, connecting McCain through sugarcane through pineapple through Hawaii through Obama to predict Election Day's winner. The word "Halloween" is a shorted version of 'All Hallow's Even'. (lit. 'all saints' night') The "ween" comes from "even," not from "Saween." The word 'Samhain' may be pronounced in that fashion, but there is no connection between him and the word Halloween. It is as holy as the word Christmas.
Although existing literature cites differences of origin, let's assume the practice of "trick or treating" comes from pagan practices. Truly, condemnation of such a practice because of its pagan past is hypocritical. How many times have we borrowed the imagery and culture of our pagan past into our social and religious culture? Coptic music and Coptic calendar are both excellent examples that can be tied closely with ancient Egyptian pagan practices and worship. The music of Golgotha was said that it was used for the burial of the Pharaoh. Oral tradition tells us that St. Athanasius turned the music with different words and a different purpose around to Christ's burial on Good Friday. And we do not shy away from such a post. If Halloween was for Samhain back then with all the pumpkin carvings and costume dressings, then today there is a different purpose. We cannot say that if we sing "Golgotha," we inadvertently pay tribute to worshiping the Pharaohs of Egypt. It's utter nonsense to say the same thing happens in Halloween.
Even Christmas trees have been said to have a pagan past among ancient Germanic pagan practices, where these trees were used as sacrificial shrines, sacrificing males of every species, including humans, and putting them under the trees as a gift to certain gods and demons. Today, Christmas trees have been used in such a social manner all over the world, specifically for the enjoyment of little children to receive presents. It's utter nonsense for this bishop whom would then condemn the practice of using Christmas trees, even if I find the last three letters, 'mas', seem to rhyme with a certain Germanic god or demon of the past (maybe "deMAS" from "deMON"). This is trying so childishly to establish a connection without scholarly verification. If I was this bishop, it wouldn't be just wrong from me to condemn a practice. It would be hypocritical considering the inconsistency of my condemnation along with all the other practices I partake of. Woe to me, a hypocrite indeed!
The same bishop who writes how "Satanic" Halloween is also writes how "he is told" of the things done in Halloween:
"I am told that children 'dress up' as witches, goblins, ghosts and little devils…I am told of games played at Halloween festivals that promote fear in children as they are ushered through horror houses and rooms decorated with skeletons, black cats, and bats…I am told that pumpkins designed with faces are 'cute ways' to denote the present day meaning of Halloween…I am told of theater movies which celebrate the cult of death."
In Christmas and St. Patrick's Day, I am told of people who celebrate these occasions in debauchery and engaging in sexual chauvinistic [sic] apparel. On St. Valentine's day, I am told of people who find romance in the wrong place: fornication. And most damning of all, I am told of beaches that contain nude people. No longer should I listen to what I'm told because I am told after all by chick.com that we should condemn the practice of Christmas, the memory of Sts. Patrick and Valentine, and the swimming in pools, lakes and beaches. Yes, let us put everyone in the state of infidelity, like our brothers the fundamentalist Muslims, whom even find the listening of classical music haram (Ar. 'uncanonical', 'sinful').
Haram 1 to you bishops who really truly turn people away from the Kingdom of Heaven in an unjust manner. When one is told of certain things, you can condemn these certain things, but you cannot assume that what you're told reflects the true goal of the holiday. The holiday itself is all about dressing up and getting candy. I accept the condemnation of the spooking, especially for little children because that is just wrong. Little children should not go to haunted houses, just as little children should not know about what sex is. It is a sight and knowledge children are not ready for. When I grew up and went to haunted houses, I found the technology side creative, just as one would find when going on a ride in The Mummy Returns roller coaster at Universal Studios. There is a sense of magic, not in religious terms, but in terms of some impressive technology. I was not told about haunted houses, yet I went through them. Children should never partake of them as much as they should never partake of alcoholic beverages. No more, no less.
I would not pronounce these holidays sinful or force an unnecessary asceticism on American Orthodox Christians in their social context. I condemn anyone who cannot handle or are immature to see certain movies. It's about maturity, not about what's wrong or right. We can drink, but we can't be drunk. I also condemn the drunkenness and sexual chauvinism of really any party, not just Halloween. And I definitely do condemn 'Mischief Night' because it's illegal, disrupts a community's peace, and can potentially harm properties. Parents should be strict on their teenage children, and especially on "Mischief Night," the night before Halloween. Those children must stay away from that real evil of unbridled mischief. But I do not condemn the good and fun things about Halloween. I don't assume that everyone dresses up in evil. I see Cinderellas, Snow Whites, basketball players, Super Mario's (or Luigi's), Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, McCain's and Obama's, and so on. These are not costumes that reflect evil, but simply reflects the experience and culture of an entire community. Let us not enter into assumption that Halloween represents everything 'we are told' about it from fundamentalist Protestants. Let us have our own mindset. Let us be investigative. Let us experience what's going on. Let's us not make a molehill out of an anthill. Woe to me that I may be a "blind guide" (cf. Matt. 23:16), simply because I am told, rather than actually knowing. Woe to me that I may care more about the appearances, and not the essence, just as the Pharisees cared more about the gold of the temple than the temple itself.
Or woe to me that I may care more about being Coptic than being Orthodox. Why not acknowledge the adoption of a culture into our Orthodox Church? For the same bishop who condemns Halloween, and whom condemns upon being merely told, also childishly does not recognize an "All Hallow's Eve" on our own "Coptic calendars". For he writes:
"Do we find 'All Saints Day' in the Coptic Sanitarium? My Synexarion does not contain this celebration. Please let me know if yours does. I would certainly like to read this. I was under the impression we celebrated Coptic Saints throughout the ENTIRE year, not on one particular day."
At this point, one should be surprised of the childish character of these sentences that lack any objective research and decides to rhyme "Saween" with Halloween. Rather than presenting objective truth, it seems like he's promoting his own agenda of condemning Western culture and promoting Coptic culture on a non-Coptic land. Is there apparent ignorance or forgetting of our celebration of an 'All Martyr's Day' on Coptic New Year? Not everyone we celebrate as a saint is included in our beloved Synexarion; some of our own sister Orthodox churches have different calendars of saints. Some actually celebrate an All Saint's Day on that day.
Now, is this really an evangelical spirit? No, we have lost such evangelical spirit. This is how we have become not Orthodox, but merely Coptic. We have now not only condemned secular practices, but also implicatively condemned all practices non-Coptic. We have now not only isolated ourselves from the world, but also from the world of Orthodoxy. We are indeed not of this world, but let us sanctify the world, not isolate ourselves from it.
We Copts should be thankful of our heritage, but let us remember the future of Orthodoxy is in our children and converts who do not identify themselves as Coptic as much as they identify themselves as American. If we really want to convert people, do we really need to strain people of Western enculturation with an Egyptian brand of Orthodoxy? I don't see the same rhetoric spoken against the British Orthodox Church, where they also celebrate the Irish saint St. Patrick. I don't see St. Patrick in our Coptic Synexarium. But perhaps, we should make a patristic concession, not for the purpose of hopeless weakness or subduing to a culture, but for the growing strength of the Orthodox Church. There is no need for me to answer this point and defend "All Hallow's Eve." The day is no different than St. Patrick's in another Orthodox Church. I am no one to condemn based on culture. Woe to me that I may "travel land and sea just to proselytize one" (Matt. 23:15) into Coptic culture, not into the truth in Orthodoxy. Woe to me that I for now make Coptic culture no longer as a support to Orthodoxy, but a hindrance to Orthodoxy, just like a "son of hell" (Matt. 23:15).
When all is said and done, concerning these main points made by this Coptic bishop whom disapproves of Halloween, those who I converse with can end up saying, "Well, okay. Assuming it's innocent fun, St. Paul wrote 'All things are lawful, but not all things are beneficial.' Is not Halloween therefore vain fun, a waste of time, a time that does not benefit me, especially spiritually?" When I look at what benefits a human, I don't look just at the spirit of the human, but also the psychological and physical health of the human, and their participation in society in general. If the community can turn something that may have seemed evil or celebrated as evil by ancient Druids, Wiccans, and Satanists into a way to unite a neighborhood in clean fun, to make new friends, to establish oneself in a community, to be known, to share friendship and love to others, and to share candy with lovely children, whose only purpose is to seemingly fill their system with sugar, then I see this no differently than how we turned Egyptian pagan calendar and music into a Christian way of life.
St. Mark, who was a Jew, did not enforce Jewish Christianity into Egyptians. We indeed have Jewish elements in our Coptic Church, but history shows churches have also evolved into their own cultures, and we see the fruits of these today in Armenian, Syrian, Ethiopian, Greek, Russian, Roman, and other churches. When people go to theme parks, partake of parties part of their jobs or colleges, or even play board games and cards, what spiritual benefit is there? None! But there is a psychological benefit. When people go to the gym in their shorts and sweaty shirts, go on diets filled with the right amount of protein, carbs, and fats, what spiritual benefit is there? None! But there is a physical benefit.
There is nothing vain then about Halloween. When the people of Israel danced and partied for their victory against Goliath and the Philistines, they did not sing to God, but sang to David. There was no mention of God in their party. It was a time of joy and unity for the descendants of Israel, "For Saul has slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands." (1 Sam. 18:7) When Egypt became an independent nation, kicking out the British, both Copts and Muslims rejoiced together in national unity. HH Pope Shenouda encourages such nationalism. Even he is called, not just a voice for the Copts, but for all Middle Eastern Christians: truly a "pope of the Arabs." What spiritual benefit does His Holiness achieve when partaking of political events and condone celebration with others victory of Egyptian nationalism, even to the extent of an endorsement of the present Egyptian President? Let us not be hypocritical to condemn one thing and then to be blind to others. If you truly feel that all things other than spiritual are vain, then you must examine yourself first.
"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cleanse the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of extortion and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee, first cleanse the inside of the cup and dish, that the outside of them may be clean also. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men's bones and all uncleanness. Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness." (Matt. 23:25-28)
Earlier, I wondered if it is really justified to call this bishop a hypocrite. After all, he was only "being told." So we can just forgive him for his ignorance. But then he writes:
Therefore, any day not set aside for Halloween; any day in which these practices are not symbolic of Satanic practices is alright for eating candy and wearing appropriate costumes. There exists 364 days in which one can eat candy and wear costumes. Only one day in which one cannot."
This tells me that he understands the inherent benign nature of playing 'dress up' and taking candy. And I understand his point for giving us a Coptic precedent as a reason for abstaining from October 31st, for there is also a patristic precedent of why we fast on Wednesdays and Fridays. However, these are relevant only if the purpose is indeed a Satanic purpose. Halloween in general today does not have promote an objective of being anti-Christ or devil-worshipping.
The main essence of Halloween is not witchcraft or psychic activity or even the conjuring of ghosts. The main purpose is simply playing 'dress up' and getting candy in good family and community fun. If Bishop Youssef understands that playing 'dress up' and taking candy is not evil, and that Halloween is nothing more than playing "dress up" and taking candy, then Halloween is not evil. Woe to me that I may use patristic or traditional precedence for something that has no relevance to that precedence, and end up murdering the true good purpose of a friendly community, murdering a truly benevolent purpose. It echoes Christ's condemnation:
"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! Because you build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous, and say, 'If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets.' Therefore you are witnesses against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers' guilt." (Matt. 23:29-32)
For though the same bishop may teach to take what is good and reject what is evil, he hypocritically crushes the culture that contains some goodness. Let us isolate ourselves from all things evil, whether they are in normal days or celebrated on Halloween, Christmas, St. Patrick's Day, or even in Coptic feasts. But let us take what is good from them and not isolate from those who are actually innocent fun partakers whose purpose is not evil, but truly good and beneficial.
Lord, have mercy!
- Ed. In this context, the word means "It's not fair!" [back]
Music is bad
Bathing suits are bad
Dancing is bad
and the list goes on......
Really? I never took the bishop's exhortation to mean that participation in Hallowe'en was inherently sinful. That certainly is the fundamentalist Protestant view, and if that's what he's adopting then it must be rejected. But I would be wary: often these "statements" are written by lay people. He likely agrees with the views expressed in the article and so signs his name to it, but I doubt he's given it the scrutiny of thought it deserves. That may not be excusable, but it's a long ways away from calling him a hypocrite. It's more a reflection of a man with a busy schedule.
I do however, disagree with something more fundamental. There is something to be said about remembering the origins of any act we do. It's the reason we have Thanksgiving, Veteran's Day, or Independence Day. Even the Eucharist is celebrated, in part, in remembrance of the Last Supper, of the Crucifixion, and of the Second Coming.
"For every time you eat of this Bread and drink of this Cup, you proclaim My death, confess My resurrection and remember Me until I come... Therefore, as we also commemorate His holy passion, His resurrection from the dead; His ascension into the heavens; His sitting at Your right hand, O Father; and His Second Coming... we offer unto You Your gifts from what is Yours"
It's even more prudent to be cognizant of origins that linger, even if they are no longer part of the mainstream. Satanism still exists. You mention Athanasius adopting Golgotha; if this is true, and if he did it while Pharaoh worshipping was still lingering in Egyptian culture, then I might be so bold as to say what he did may not have been wise. On the other hand, it seems to me that time had already whittled away the paganistic associations the hymn entailed. Today, Satanism remains, while pharaoh worshipping is obsolete.
Others will say that Christmas, and other celebratory holidays were implemented at a time when those paganistic holidays were in fact rampant. If it is true that Christmas was started to replace a pagan holiday, then I can see a difference between adopting a celebration, and replacing a pagan one with a Christian one. And if it was an adoption instead of a replacement, why not be all the more wiser and circumspect today?
All I'm saying is, there is a reason to be aware of the origins of why we do something, as often its remnants remain. We may be participating in something we really did not intend to.
Looking at origins helps ground us. In a world where we too frequently believe that time started on our birthdays, a look to the past is refreshing. If I were to hold a kegger at my house to celebrate Veteran's day, it would be seen as inappropriate, because of our look to the meaning of the holiday. Why should it be any different with Hallowe'en? The Satanic association with the holiday may have been muted, but it most certainly is not gone. We can't trivialize something just because it's no longer mainstream: if it's real, it should most certainly be brought to light.
Should we then totally condemn Hallowe'en as a result? Tough call - I don't know. I understand the argument of letting American kids just be American kids. The soft spot is always imposing on children the idea of being different, in a world that so strongly demands conformity and normalcy. Children most certainly do not understand the nuances of what they are participating in. However, there comes an age where that line blurs, where understanding kicks in.
You cannot separate Mischief Night from Hallowe'en. I participated in Hallowe'en well into my high school years, and by then it was more about egging houses than free candy. But I had become used to Oct. 31 being a night out. I was familiar and desensitized to the mood. I had grown up watching older kids participate in mischief; and at that age, you always wanted to be like the big kids. So sometimes you have to force children to do things early on, for their ultimate good. That said, it may not have been any different had I not been a trick-o-treater. But certainly to initiate an Oct. 31 ritual would have been much more difficult than to continue a tradition.
This very subtle difference may be where the issue turns. Harmless trick-or-treating should not be a concern for the episcopate. Neither is the appropriateness of Harry Potter. But good parenting is dwindling these days. They rely on school teachers and Sunday School to rear their children. So while most kids will grow up and be able to discern good and evil, and know when Hallowe'en become Satanic worshipping, others will not, and the Church may very well be forced to make a well-thought out statement on the issue. Perhaps the real push should be to have bishops stand at the pulpit and remind parents of properly educating their children about Hallowe'en when they become old enough to understand what Satanism is, and the un-Christian behaviours of Mischief Night. In the very least, the bishop's article gets us thinking.
seems like paragraph spacing doesn't get transferred over
Hi blurrymonocle, thanks for your stellar comment. will give you my own thoughts v. soon. for now, id just wanted to let you know that yes, formatting comments doesn't reflect but I'm on it now! :o)
Blurrymonocle, your request has been granted.
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