Oct 12, 2015

The Pagan Roots of the Fall Festival at Your Local Church

Okay, so I'm not as smart as Dean Enlow, and you should stop reading this now, and go read Saturday's piece on Schiller and the nature of law.

Now that you're back, I need to briefly rant on the cultural capitulation that is the conservative congregation's Annual Fall Festival. Having read several thoughtful and gracious posts on "Why Our Family Doesn't Celebrate Halloween," I just have to get this off my chest: When I see a church offering a Fall Festival, it tells me that we've given up and isolated ourselves on one more issue. I could be wrong, so weigh in if you would.

Halloween is a Christian holiday. It is one of the finest examples of the redemptive calling of God's people on the calendar. Unfortunately, because it implicates the nature of "feasts" and festivals, it is sometimes a tough one for Protestants to defend. It is an example of mixed success and, I believe, current capitulation. 

Most churches in my area of the Bible Belt have Fall Festivals every year to provide safe, sanitized candy-centered fun for those who think that Halloween is a pagan rite-- a gateway to Devil worship. Ironically, it is the pagan "fall festival" that the Church sought to co-opt in the ninth century (or earlier) when it moved its celebration of All Saints to November 1. 

The celebration of the martyrs, later All Saints Day, was first celebrated by the church in the early 4th or 5th century. It is a day to honor God and those who are called to be his.  We celebrate the union of Christ and His people—His saints.  The night before All Saints (or All Hallows as it is known in the Anglican Church) is All Saints Eve— All Hallows Eve—Hallowe’en.  Christians have celebrated Hallowe’en for centuries as a reminder that God works through his people and to remember their faithful witness to the church and to the world.  

Long before Christ, pagans (including the Celts) celebrated their New Year at the end of October. The festivals and practices that accompanied this celebration were evil, involving occult practices and spirit worship, and perhaps even human sacrifice.  As the gospel spread, the church confronted these pagan festivals and practices.  While All Saints Day was first celebrated in the month of May, it was moved to November 1 in 834 or 835, specifically to coincide with these popular pagan festivals. In doing this, the Church was fulfilling its call to confront and transform the world, bringing all under the headship of Christ. When Christians co-opt or “redeem” the things of this world and transform them to practices that glorify God, we reflect God’s ultimate plan of redemption—in Christ, reconciling us to himself.  We were once enemies of God and friends of the world. But we are now his, adopted as sons, brought out of the kingdom of darkness into his marvelous light. Now, instead of a pagan holiday celebrating the spirits who will help the harvest, we celebrate God’s power in the lives and deaths of his people. Sure, All Hallows is about death—millions of Christians have died horrible deaths while proclaiming Jesus as Lord—but it is ultimately about life—eternal life and the abundant life God gives to his people. 

Again, All Hallows Even' is a Christian holiday, devoid of pagan origins, moved to coincide with the pagan fall festivals to remind us of the truth. 

All Saints Eve is a particularly appropriate time to study the saints and martyrs of the church and to reflect upon saints of the Lord who have touched us personally.  We should use this holiday to teach our children about the heroes of the church, particularly those suffering around the world, and to talk about the redemptive task of the body of Christ. 

And, yes, we can do that at the annual fall festival or trunk or treat in the church parking lot. But to me these are symbols of the Church giving up and giving in-- going along with the larger cultural narrative that has pushed back against the redeeming work of God's people. 

Incidentally, this is not to say that all families should be celebrating Halloween, or that there are no current occultic practices happening in your town at the end of October. The battle over festivals is a picture of a real spiritual battle, to be sure, and how we engage it is certainly a matter of conscience and prayer. It could be that our best teaching moments will come when we tell little Johnny that he can't dress up as Alice Cooper and do what everyone else is doing on Halloween. I don't know. I only wish that the local congregation would lend a hand in the process instead of opting out. I personally would prefer an All Saints Eve celebration led by the local church and its families that included an invitation to the community or participation with it. 

For all the saints, who from their labors rest,
Who Thee by faith before the world confessed,
Thy name, O Jesus, be forever blessed.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

Thou wast their rock, their fortress and their might;
Thou, Lord, their captain in the well fought fight;
Thou, in the darkness drear, their one true Light.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

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