Ready: The case for (and against) Halloween

Mary Ready

Next Saturday is Halloween. And by now you’ve probably bought several giant bags of “fun size” candy, consumed most of it, berated yourself for being so weak, and gone out to buy more for the trick or treaters.

Now for my annual Jack-o-Lantern story. If you’ve read this tale in my last 18 Halloween columns, you may skip this part.

Jack was an 18th century nasty Irish drunk fond of playing games with the devil. On several occasions, he bested the demon with all manner of trickery until one dark night, Old Scratch climbed a tree to pounce on him. Spotting the devil up in the branches of the tree, wily Jack carved a large cross into its trunk, knowing Lucifer could not slither down without touching the holy symbol. Jack, offering a ladder as a bargaining device, was granted 10 more years to live and a get-out-of-hell pass upon his death. But, since the notorious sinner was barred from heaven as well, Jack was doomed to roam the earth after death with a burning coal from hell to light his way. Jack hollowed out a large turnip and placed it inside. Like the Walking Dead, Jack eternally wanders the world with the turnip, glowing eerily, lighting his path. He is, then, Jack of the Lantern, or later the more familiar jack-o’-lantern.

Irish Catholics for many years afterward carved turnips, potatoes, and pumpkins which are all fruits of the autumn harvest to light Jack’s way and to ward off evil spirits from their villages.

So, once upon a time, Christian parents, believing in hell and heaven, told Jack’s story to their children as a warning that they shouldn’t mess with the devil. After 1846, Irish immigrants, coming to America during the potato famine, brought their Halloween traditions with them. They chose pumpkins because they were more plentiful in the New World. Probably easier to carve, too.

Flash forward to the present.

Ask a devoutly Christian parent “What are you doing for Halloween?” And you just might hear, “Nothing! My family doesn’t participate in such satanic things.” Thunder crashes, and you slink away, mortified for even asking. But change the “for” to “ON,” and the same good Christian might answer, “Why, we’re all going to the Harvest Party at our church.” Now the celestial choir begins to sing joyful anthems, and a trumpet sounds.

Whether it’s called Fall Festival, Harvest Festival, Autumn Fling, or Hallelujah Night, the intention is to present a Christian alternative to Halloween.

Why is an alternative necessary? If there’s really a problem with Halloween, why disguise it with a substitute? Yet, at the same time, with the protection of children increasingly at risk these days, church and community events offer fun, candy, music, games, etc. within the embrace of safety. Our city has an abundance of such kid and family-friendly entertainments.

I never saw the harm in Halloween. Especially not as a little girl. Dressed in my devil, witch, or skeleton costume, I went to the party at my elementary school where there was face painting, bobbing for apples, and listening to one of our teachers telling ghost stories in a darkened room while holding a flashlight to illuminate her green face. Daddy would then take me trick or treating to neighborhood houses after the school events.

Fun stuff. And so far, I’ve never decapitated anyone with a chain saw.

In a sick, Big City version of Halloween, detractors point to October 31 as a night for murder, mayhem, and maniacal madness which the police refer to as “wildings.”

But it’s also the night before All Saints Day, a time to honor Christendom’s saints. In fact, “Halloween” is a contraction for Hallows Eve, and “hallow” indicates holiness or sanctification.

Certain Bible verses are used by some Christians in denouncing Halloween. Ephesians 4:27 warns “Never give a place to the devil.” And then, there’s God’s admonition in Deuteronomy 18: 10-12 about witchcraft and calling “forth the spirits of the dead.”

As long as people are guided by divine wisdom and common sense, trick or treating and dressing up in costume won’t lead to a child’s turning into a Godless adult. And I don’t think it matters if children prance around as a ghoul, goblin, princess, or pirate.

They’ll be fine.

But that’s just me … the former kid in the Casper the Friendly Ghost outfit.

Mary Ready of Destin is a twice-retired English teacher and long-time area resident. Her columns are published on Saturdays.