Letters of Life

Trick or Treat: Halloween Unmasked

I realize that Halloween raises a lot of questions in Christians, especially if you’re a parent with young children. Do you avoid talking about the festival altogether, rejecting it on superstitious grounds? Or do you look at it with an open mind, without fear and prejudice?

I had my biases too, thinking it was a commemoration of all things from the Underworld, and thus, something you treat with a ten-foot pole. Then, I had the chance to experience it, first in college in the Bible belt of America, and then, in beautiful British Columbia. Nothing like experiencing something, like rebonding hair, or racism for example, to get a better understanding of something strange and foreign.

Origins Halloween is not all ghosts and ghouls as one would suppose. Historically, it is a melding of Roman and Celtic myth, as well as the Roman Catholic All Saints’ Day (All Hallows Day, Nov 1), which honours all saints. The ancient Celts, like the Chinese, believed that on this day, spirits were allowed to wander the earth. But instead of feeding them like the food-obsessed Chinese, the Celts dressed up as harmful spirits to avoid harm. It’s the old if-you-can’t-beat-em-join-’em philosophy.

Fall beauty ‘Round about this time, when the Northern Hemisphere tilts its face away from the sun, the temperature drops to 10 deg C, and the leaves on the deciduous trees turn into flames of red, saffron and gold.

Squash in all its variations and colours of autumn

This is also when pumpkins and squash in all their golden glory are harvested. Children have a wild time walking around enormous pumpkin patches picking pumpkins and getting lost in corn mazes put up by many farms outside the city centre. This is autumn’s highlight and one of my favourite times of the year.

Halloween today So this autumnal celebration has transformed through the years into a warm, bright spark to light up darkening days, when night falls at six o’clock. Families get into the spirit of art-and-craft and decorate their homes in highly imaginative ways, making cute ghosts and witches and broomsticks, scarecrows, skeletons, and even mummies (the bandaged type). It’s all in good fun, and I remember walking my children to school and all of us admiring the Halloween decorations–not scary because we walked past them every morning–the Jack O-Lanterns on porches which glowed at night from candles lit from within, the ‘cobwebs’ which amazingly stretched from front-door to roof gable. Of course I explained the origins of Halloween to them, and I told them exactly what *we* were choosing to observe about October 31st: Dressing up in fun do-it-yourself costumes, the pumpkin carving, lighting candles, decorating the house with baby pumpkins and squash, and the trick-or-treating (going house to house collecting free candy in *buckets* is THE highlight of Halloween).

When you explain *what* it is you are doing on Halloween–the festivities, dressing up in costumes (not ghoulish ones, but as a firefighter, a clown, a rock star, or Pocahontas) and attending classes in said costume, carving Jack O’Lanterns together and putting a candle in it so the whole apartment smells of cooked pumpkin–and why you can do it with a clear conscience, then you find that you and your family are choosing to join in the wholesome fun where, for one day in a year, you can walk into neighbours’ gardens and say ‘Hi’ and celebrate life, actually.

When we returned to Singapore, my children viewed Halloween in this light, and enjoyed decorating my front door with cobwebs, spiders, and ghosts in bedsheets. I bought sacks of candy and for at least two Oct 31s, entertained Disney princesses, genies, little bedsheeted ghosts, and teens who revelled in vampish make-up and grabbed handfuls of sweets like they were gold.

So, in the spirit of fall and all things golden, Happy Halloween!

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