(Posted October 28, 2016)
Come next Monday evening, there is likely to be a parade of little people – and not so little people—coming to your place. I’m going to wager that there will be a split of costumes they’ll arrive in. There will be the usual parade of fairy princesses and Elsas, football players, police officers and cute animals.
There will ALSO be a large number of Trick or Treaters that look like the cast of The Living Dead. If not zombies, then there will be monsters, “bums,” skeletons and yes- in this election year, political candidates. Finally, late in the evening comes the scariest visitors of all: teenagers with no costumes and just a big pillowcase for their haul of candy.
Why do people put on costumes for Halloween? And what do these choices represent?
In that first set of costumes I mentioned, the trick or treaters are choosing something they aspire to be, a positive statement of beauty or humor or goodness. However, all of these latter themes are ones that represent the things that evoke anxiety in us. They represent the Dark Side of ourselves that we wouldn’t want to share with the world, and it’s no accident that the themes revolve around forbidden impulses, like violence or risqué behavior. That is the world of The Evil One. And then there’s that one overarching, anxiety-provoking theme in Halloween: the fear of death. Humans are, we believe, the only intelligent creatures that are completely aware that one day they will definitely die. Since human beings are already resistant to change in any form, this is the one BIG change that we fear the most, since we wonder what exists on the other side of the veil of death.
This is one of the primary ways that Halloween came to be. Its genesis came from the pagan belief that on October 31, the barrier between the world of humans and the world of departed spirits becomes thin and spirits and demons can cross over, and play tricks on humanity. The Catholic Church established the day of All Saints to be observed on November 1, to redirect us fearful humans that people who have lived holy lives do live on in the presence of God. Halloween, as many of you know, is actually a contraction of the words, “All Hallow’s Eve.” (We will celebrate the lives of the departed members of our church on our own All Saints celebration November 6, fittingly on Communion Sunday.)
The fact that we pass out “trick or treat” goodies on Halloween is not only because “spirits” may come knocking at our door and need to be bribed not to cause us harm, as it was thought in the old times. Psychologist Dr. Scott Smith tells us it also comes from the delightful Christian concept of giving out sweet cakes to those who visit a home in return for prayers for a deceased person.
This Sunday we will be taking a closer view of “The Dark Side,” looking at the role of the Evil One in both the Old and the New Testament, and how our own fears can create monsters of much greater concern than any roaming around on Halloween. We invite our small ones to dress in costume for this service. - Pastor Pat Kriss