Saturday, October 26, 2013

Why Halloween is a Church holiday

I'm not talking about "Fall Festivals" either.  I'm talking about Halloween.  All Hallows' Eve.   The night when everybody dresses up like something other than what they are, adults get drunk and little kids beg for candy from strangers and then get sugar drunk.  Yes.  I'm talking about that Halloween.  

You may be thinking, all of you, Christians and other types of folks alike, that I've lost my mind.  That my hubris is out of control.  That Halloween comes from an ancient Celtic Pagan festival called Samhain, and not a Christian holiday.   Well, you're a little right.   Parts of it do.  Other parts?  Not so much. 

Let me shift back in time a little bit.   A long time ago Christianity was illegal.  Why was it illegal?  It was illegal because it was largely confined to the Roman Empire and Rome, while famous for it tolerating you keeping your own gods, insisted on you taking on some of theirs.   They found Jews terribly suspicious and by extension, the upstart cult called The Way (or Christianity).   Nero, being batshit crazy and needing a new scape goat ,instituted the first large scale persecution of the Church.   He would have them brought to the arena for refusing to light incense to the Emperor, i.e., him.   In fairness, I can't imagine most Romans at the time wanting to offer him any kind of worship either.  The guy was rumored to have murdered his own mother and slept with his sister.  (For further fairness, this was after probably having been sexually abused himself by his sicko uncle.)

It was the practice of Christians to remember the martyrs once a year on their "heavenly birthday" or the day they died.  Depending on how you look at it, fortunately or unfortunately, after a while there were just too many of them.   Probably because, starting really with Nero, the crazy had overtaken the Roman gene pool and they were a favorite target.   According to the BBC's religion column this didn't get real attention until the fourth century A.D. but I seem to remember someone telling me it started earlier, if more informal than when one could nail it down with a primary source.

Remembering saints and martyrs and dedicating a specific day to them each year has been a Christian tradition since the 4th century AD, but it wasn't until 609AD that Pope Boniface IV decided to remember all martyrs. Originally 13th May was designated as the Feast of All Holy Martyrs. Later, in 837AD, Pope Gregory IV extended the festival to remember all the saints, changed its name to Feast of All Saints and changed the date to 1st November.quoted from this

Why November 1st?   Proximity to Samhain?  Probably.   There!  There!  The Christians stole the pagan festival.  They stole it and made it theirs....

Not quite.   There's only one problem with that logic.   By 690 AD the Church in Celtic Europe wasn't Jewish anymore.   They were something else entirely.  They were people who used to be practitioners of Samhain, Celts.   They took their own festival.   It was theirs to begin with after all.  They took their own festival and applied meaning from their new religion to it. 

If you think about it, really think about it, it makes perfect sense.   These folks weren't Jews.  They didn't get Jewish holidays and in the beginning, as evidenced by the number of martyrs, they were a little irritated by that Jewish messiah guy.  They also didn't read Hebrew, Aramaic or Greek (Original languages our scriptures were in) and they didn't grow up with an intense fear of idolatry the way the Jews did.  Why?  They didn't have the Ten Commandments posted on their bedroom walls.   Why?  They couldn't read, most of them.  After St. Jerome translated the scriptures into Latin it helped---but then folks hung onto that longer than it was useful and it turned into a thing---a  thing that produced biblical illiteracy en masses.    But they got Jesus, and they got prayer, and they got Christianity.  And when they were learning how to love him, they figured out a way to take something they knew and apply it to this new faith to help folks understand it all better.

So we have a little of both.   A little celebration of our darlings who went before us.  Who pray with us when we need them and let God know they want everything to be alright for us even though everything's getting to be alright for them.   We let ourselves be afraid of the dark in ourselves and if we're lucky enough to be a faith tradition that encourages it, we remember all the people in our lives who gave us reasons not be afraid.   The people who changed our lives by being in them.  The people who held our hands when we'd done stupid things and told us it was going to be alright.  God still loves us and so do they.  The people who showed us we were wrong or that we were right and who never turned their backs on us no matter how painful it was to deal with us.  

I can't imagine life if I wasn't permitted to speak of the dead to God.  It would hurt too much.  I may be naïve.  I may be silly.  Whatever dumb thing else I am though, I am a follower of Jesus.   All Hallows is All Saints day and All Hallows Eve is a Christian holiday.  Period.  Now you know why. It doesn't have a bloody thing to do with the devil.  Not even the costumes.  The costumes are to help you dodge unfriendly spirits that have an easier time prowling at the time of year.  I believe they really do have an easier time that night than most others, but if I told you why I'd have to kill you.   

So should we get drunk and dress like pirates?


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