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How the Grinch Stole Halloween

October 26, 2009

When I was a boy, Halloween was a favorite holiday. We looked forward to the carnival at school. We planned, in advance and with great attention to detail, the costume we would wear to trick or treat. On Halloween night, we walked miles carrying a grocery bag door-to-door collecting enough candy to last until Christmas.

I am not sure when it happened, but, with apologies to Dr. Seuss, the Grinch tried to steal Halloween. Due to the general meanness of some people, trick or treating turned violent. Vandalism replaced tricks. Some treats became serious threats. Needles and razorblades were hidden in candy and in apples. The reputation of a fun holiday was sullied.

Halloween fireworks took their toll. One of my sisters was burned when someone rolled a cherry bomb beneath her toddler feet. A friend lost sight in one eye following a firecracker accident.

Movies added to the rising sense of terror. “Nightmare on Elm Street” and its numerous sequels made Freddy Krueger a frightening legend. Chainsaw horrors, and slasher films, including no less than nine or ten “Halloween” movies, contributed to the hijacking of a kids’ delight.

The Celts celebrated Samhain, meaning end of summer. They believed is was a time when the dead could visit the living by passing through the thin veil separating this world from the next. For a few days there could be a reunion with loved ones who were deceased. Since evil souls might also return, bonfires were lit to ward off menacing spirits.

Pope Gregory III moved the Christian feast of All Saints’ Day to November 1 to give Samhain a Christian interpretation The term Halloween is derived from All Hallows’ Eve, the evening before All Hallows’ Day or All Saints’ Day. The Christian Church recognized October 31 as a Holy Day, so Halloween became a holiday.

In recent years, conservative Christians, alarmed by the vandalism and violence associated with Halloween, have renewed the battle with more negative forces. The conflict has produced more heat than light with charges from both sides that are unfair and untrue. Some Christians want to eleminate Halloween altogether, others prefer to reinterpret it as a holy day.

Halloween festivals have been replaced by Noah’s Ark parties in many churches. A dedicated preschool director said to me last year, “We encourage the children to dress up like animals. We always get a Batman or a Spiderman in the mix. I guess bats and spiders are considered animals even in their superhero form.”

The church I serve celebrates with a Fall Family Festival, one of the happiest events of the entire year. Children and adults dress up in crazy costumes. The event features games similiar to the ones that were a part of Halloween carnivals when I was a boy. Trunk or Treat replaces Trick or Treat. Families decorate the trunk of their car or the bed of their pickup truck. The vehicles are arranged along both sides of a long parking area. Children and their parents move car-to-car rather than door-to-door gathering goodies from loving adults they know very well.

For Protestant Christians, Halloween also has deeper meaning. On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther, a young German priest, posted a document, The Ninety-Five Theses, on the church door in Wittenberg. The list of reform measures ignited the Protestant Reformation. October 31 is Reformation Day.

The celebration of Halloween is as varied as the opinions about the day and its meaning. Families have numerous options. Even within extended families, there will not always be agreement.

An eleven-year-old boy was looking forward to Halloween. His parents had always allowed him to dress up and go trick or treating. This year his mom and dad were out of town, and his aunt was staying with him.

“There will be no celebrating of Halloween while I am here!” his aunt declared. “You can go to the party at the church. If you wear a costume, it must be something from the Bible.”

The boy retired to his room to ponder his dilemma. He had a brilliant idea. He put on assorted sports equipment. He took his scout hatchet in one hand and a garbage can lid in the other. Then he reported to his stern aunt.

The sight of her nephew startled the aunt. “Young man, I said your costume had to be something from the Bible. Please explain.”

“Look in Ephesians chapter six,” the lad said. “I have put on the whole armor of God.

My karate sash is the belt of truth. My soccer shin guards and cleats mean that I am fitted with the gospel of peace. My baseball catcher’s chest protector is the breastplate of righteousness. My football headgear is the helmet of salvation. And the garbage can lid is the shield of faith.”

His aunt knew the scripture well, but she was still not convinced. “What about the scout hatchet?”

“I didn’t have anything to use as the sword of the Spirit, so this is the ax of the apostles.”

The Grinch was outwitted again!

Kirk H. Neely
© October 26, 2009

Kirk Neely will be signing his new book, A Good Mule Is Hard to Find, at Dolline’s in Clifton #2, 7:00 – 9:00 A.M., Wednesday, October 28 and at Ford’s Drugs on East Main Street, Spartanburg, 11:00 – 2:00, Saturday October 31. You may purchase his books at these events.

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