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YES, VIRGINIA, THERE IS A SAINT NICHOLAS

December 6, 2017

More than a century ago eight-year-old Virginia O’Hanlon wrote a letter to the editor of the New York Sun. Her request was simple.

Dear Editor: I am eight years old.

Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus. Papa says, ‘If you see it in The Sun it’s so.’ Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus?

Virginia O’Hanlon

115 West Ninety-Fifth Street

New York, New York

The editor assigned veteran news reporter Francis Church to respond to the child’s question. A few days later an unsigned editorial appeared in the paper and has since become the most reprinted newspaper editorial of all time.

Because we have a nine-year old granddaughter named Virginia, Clare and I recently read the New York Sun editorial from 1897. Here is a portion of Church’s response to Virginia. The entire column is easily available on the internet.

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! How dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus. It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

For Clare and me the newspaper column is a Christmas keepsake.

The closer we get to Christmas, the more I see of Santa. I see his likeness depicted on sweaters, neckties, and on billboards.  A favorite Christmas ditty declares that Santa is everywhere.

He sees you when you’re sleeping.

He knows when you’re awake.

He knows if you’ve been bad or good,

So be good for goodness’ sake.

Because he is so much a part of the holiday season, maybe we ought to know more about him.

The true story of Santa Claus begins with Nicholas who was born late in the third century in the village of Patara, located in what is now Turkey. His wealthy parents died in an epidemic while Nicholas was still young.

Following the ancient teaching to sell what you own and give to the poor, Nicholas used his entire inheritance to assist the poor, the sick, and the suffering. He became a beloved priest. Children knew him for his kindness.  He had a heart of compassion for all people, especially the needy.

Beyond historical facts, there are many legends about St. Nicholas. One tells about a man who was very poor.  The man had three daughters who were not eligible for marriage because they had no dowry.  The poor man could have sold his daughters into slavery, but he refused. They would be his responsibility all of their lives. The culture dictated – no dowry, no husband.

Nicholas heard of the man’s plight. Riding on his white horse, he passed the man’s humble home and threw three bags of gold coins into an open window to provide a dowry for each of the three daughters.  Stockings had been hung by the fireplace to dry.  One of the bags of coins fell into one of the stockings.  Thus developed the legend that St. Nicholas comes secretly to fill stockings.

Nicholas eventually became the Bishop of Myra. He dressed in the clothing of a bishop, wearing a red cap and a long, flowing red robe.  Following his death, he became St. Nicholas, canonized by the Roman Catholic Church.  The feast day of St. Nicholas is December 6.

Throughout much of the world, December 6 is the day that children expect gifts from St. Nicholas.  Typically, they put their shoes either outside the door or under the Christmas tree. The following morning, they find their shoes filled with candies, goodies, and small toys.

In France, St. Nicholas is Père Noël.  In England, he is simply Father Christmas.

The legend of St. Nicholas came to the United States through Dutch immigrants.  He was known as Sinter Claus, a derivative of St. Nicholas in the Dutch language.  In time, Sinter Claus became Santa Claus.  Santa Claus then is a continuation of a legendary fourth-century priest who cared about children and the poor.

In 1931, the Coca-Cola Company in Atlanta, Georgia, used Santa Claus in some of their advertising at Christmastime.  A commercial artist created an image that was based on the poem by Clement Moore entitled “The Night before Christmas.”  In the poem, the jolly old elf is described as smoking a pipe. He had a tummy that shook when he laughed like a bowl full of jelly.

The priest who became St. Nicholas was a thin man who gave to the poor.  The commercialized Santa Claus became a fat, jolly symbol of overconsumption.

Several years before her death, my mother gave me a gift, a figurine that depicts Santa Claus kneeling at the manger.  With his hat off and his hands folded, he is bowing in prayer.  The imagery is appropriate because it removes Santa Claus from the center of Christmas.

At Christmas, the best response we can make is to give to other people, just as the original St. Nicholas did. In the true spirit of Christmas and the true spirit of St. Nicholas, we need to concentrate on the ones who are needy, the people who are poor

I believe in Santa Claus, but I also believe we need to recapture the original spirit of St. Nicholas.

Over the past twenty years, I have had a rare privilege. I have played the part of Santa Claus at various gatherings for the church family. The children presented a Christmas program. Then Santa Claus, yours truly, entered the Sanctuary with a hearty, “Ho! Ho! Ho!”

Santa sat in a chair, and told the original Christmas story.When the children heard the story from Santa Claus, it had a special effect on them.  When Santa bowed his head to pray, the children took note.

After the program, Santa lingered as the children crawled up on his knee to tell him what they wanted for Christmas.  Then Santa Claus asked, “Do you know what I want for Christmas?”  The children always looked surprised.  This was the first time they have ever heard Santa make a request of them.

“I want you and your family to remember that Christmas is the birthday of Jesus. For his birthday present, I want you do something kind for someone else.”

There are people who would like to do away with Santa Claus.

If we can recapture the original intent of the caring man known as St. Nicholas, we will rediscover a part of the real joy of Christmas.

I no longer play the part of Santa outside of our own family. But to our granddaughter, Virginia, and to all of our thirteen grandchildren, I say, “Yes, indeed there is a Santa Claus!” Then I share with them the story of Saint Nicholas, a lasting example of love and kindness, especially to children.

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EXPECTING A BABY

December 2, 2017

The season of Advent presents several challenges to a pastor. The first is to tell the old, old story to people who have heard it over and over again as well as to those for whom it is only vaguely familiar. The preaching task is to retain and restore the mystery and wonder of the original story. We have the responsibility of liberating Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, and the magi from confinement as stained glass icons in a cathedral window, freeing them to be real people again.

A second challenge is to remember that Christmas is a time of sharp emotional contrasts. Many people are happy and have little difficulty finding joy in the season, but December brings sadness to others. For those who are hurting, the coming of Christmas may be filled with dread, despair, bitterness, and anger. Some are freshly wounded; others carry deep scars from years gone by. For them, Christmas is anything but the season to be jolly.  They suffer while others celebrate.

In fifty-two years of pastoral ministry, I have learned that there is no better way to present the message of hope and love that is at the heart of Christmas than through stories that parallel and perhaps merge with the original story.

Long ago and much further away, a young woman was startled by the news that she was pregnant. She had not had the first inkling, nor had she any reason to believe she was with child. She had saved herself for marriage. The attendant, dressed all in white, was neither a nurse nor a physician. The messenger who broke the news was the archangel Gabriel. The young woman was Mary of Nazareth.

Advent is Mary’s time. It is a season of expectancy for the young mother who lives in anticipation. But all of us, men and women alike, share in this pregnancy. This is a time of preparation for the arrival of a child, the nativity of Jesus. As surely as a young couple makes ready to receive a new child, we, too, must be ready for this new arrival. This is the essence of the season of Advent for those of the Christian faith.

When Clare and I got married, we knew that we wanted to have children.

We prayed that God would give us a child when the time was right.  We became frustrated that God did not meet our schedule.  We went for medical help and were told that it was improbable that we would ever have a child biologically.  We pondered the possibility of adoption.  We were overjoyed when Clare became pregnant but very disappointed when three months later she had a miscarriage.  Again we were told that for us the possibility of having children was remote.  We began to explore the possibility of adoption more seriously.  After several months, Clare was again pregnant.  The second pregnancy lasted longer.  Our hearts were broken following a second miscarriage.  I was angry.  Clare was grieving.

On a walk into the woods with clenched fists and gritted teeth, I told God that I did not understand why some people had children they did not want and could care for, yet we could not have a child.

There was no flash of light, no audible voice, but a message came, clear as a bell, “Kirk, how can you expect to be a father until you learn to hurt?”

We initiated the long process of adoption with paperwork, home visits, and medical tests.  Within weeks before we were to receive our adopted child, we discovered that Clare was again pregnant.  The choice was difficult.  Should we terminate adoption and risk another disappointment?  Should we continue adoption proceedings with the possibility that we would have two infants just six months apart in age?  Our decision to terminate adoption was another grief for us.

Clare carried our child full term.  We were expecting our firstborn to arrive on December 18, 1970.  As these things often go, the anticipated date came and went, but still no baby.

As Christmas approached, Clare and I waited in Louisville, realizing that we would not be with either of our families for the holidays. We could not travel to New Orleans, where her parents resided, or to Spartanburg, where my family lived. We exchanged gifts with our families by mail.

Christmas Eve arrived; our child had not. We enjoyed dinner together in our home. Before midnight, we opened one gift each. Then we called both families to wish them Merry Christmas.

Just after we went to bed, Clare had her first contraction. Suddenly, we were wide awake! At 5:00 A.M. on Christmas morning, we were on the way to Norton Infirmary in downtown Louisville. A soft, light snow was falling, and the streets were empty as we drove through the dark.

At the hospital, I left Clare in labor and delivery and went to admissions to check her in as a patient. When I returned her contractions had stopped, and she was sound asleep. I waited. Then, about noon on Christmas Day she went into hard labor. We had taken Lamaze classes and thought we knew what to expect. In old cowboy movies, when a mother is giving birth, they send the husband out to boil water. Lamaze is something like that. It gives the father a coaching job to do while the mother works very hard.

At 3:26 P.M. on Christmas Day our first child, Michael Kirk Neely, was born. We were overjoyed. Finally, we had a baby, born on Christmas Day! Both sets of grandparents were elated when we telephoned to announce our son’s arrival.

The birth of a child is always a miracle.

The word Advent comes from Latin, meaning to come. Some Christian carols become prayers of anticipation: “O Come, O Come, Immanuel” and “Come, Thou Long-expected Jesus.”

The season of Advent begins on Sunday, December 3, 2017.  In a spiritual sense, all Christians are pregnant with anticipation.  Every year, we celebrate anew the birth of a child, not just any child, but the one born in Bethlehem.  To hold a newborn in your arms is a reminder of just how precious and fragile a life is.  To hold an infant in your arms on Christmas Day is a reminder that in the birth of Jesus, God made himself very vulnerable.

Each Christmas, we draw close to the manger and look into the face of this child.  Look closely.  Did you notice the resemblance?  According to the Christian tradition this baby is the spitting image of his Father.

A KENTUCKY THANKSGIVING

November 19, 2017

Thanksgiving is the least commercialized of all of our holiday celebrations.  The fourth Thursday of November, for most of us, is a day to pause before the Friday identified as the busiest shopping day of the year.  The brief respite is a time for reflection, for gratitude, even for nostalgia.  One of my most important Thanksgiving memories is a Kentucky Thanksgiving with Bobby.

Bobby was fourteen years old, large for his age, but shy and withdrawn.  His severe acne, unkempt hair, broken front tooth, smudged glasses, and distant stare were external evidence of a troubled mind and a broken heart.

Bobby was a patient in the adolescent unit at Central State Hospital, a mental hospital in La Grange, Kentucky, where I worked as a chaplain.  Though Bobby was diagnosed as chronically depressed and borderline schizophrenic, he had moments when his intellectual functioning exceeded that of the hospital staff.  Bobby was one of the patients who prompted the comment, “The main difference between the staff and the patients in this hospital is that the patients get better.” Read more…

WHY HUB CITY?

November 12, 2017

The name Hub City has popped up everywhere in our fair city. Many of us are familiar with Hub City Co-op, Hub City Farmers’ Market, and Hub City Writers Project. But there are many other enterprises that carry the name. Hub City Chicken and More, Hub City Delivery, Hub City Art and Design, Hub City Marketing, Hub City Tap House, Hub City Runners, Hub City Auto Glass, and Hub City Construction to name a few. But where did the name originate? I was recently reminded of the story behind the name.

Last Sunday afternoon, just after 2:00 P. M. a brightly painted train rumbled past our house. I had never before seen a train like this one. An internet search revealed that this was the Norfolk Southern Safety Train.

Norfolk Southern’s Operation Awareness and Response program was launched in 2015 in order to enhance working partnerships with local first responders by delivering classroom, web-based, and field training sessions to better equip them to deal with incidents involving hazardous materials and rail operations.

The Norfolk Southern Hazmat Safety Train is driven by a red, white, and black 2,000-horsepower, 273-ton locomotive in livery sporting the insignia of police, fire, and emergency services. It has two blue and red boxcars that have been converted into classrooms with a capacity for 30 people each, four yellow, red, and green tank cars to train first responders in various valves and fittings, and two 89-foot flatcars which transport intermodal containers.

Seeing this brightly painted train moving down the tracks behind our home was quite a Sunday afternoon sight. Our grandson Ben and I were very excited by the unusual train.

I have always been intrigued by the railroad. I can remember the Christmas when I got my first Lionel train set.  Several years later, my dad built an elaborate HO gauge model railroad layout in our basement. My greater interest, however, has always been in real locomotives pulling long lines of freight cars along the steel rails that crisscross our country.

I came by my fascination with trains honestly. My great-grandfather died in an accident while working as a flagman on the Nashville, Chattanooga, and St. Louis Railroad. On a curve on a mountain grade, he was thrown from the gondola on top of the caboose to the tracks below. The incident is shrouded in mystery.

After the Great Depression, my grandfather bought a strip of land that bordered on the Southern Railway Line from Spartanburg to Columbia. He built a lumber shed on one end of the land. On the other end he built a home for his family of nine children. In those days, a lumberyard required a railroad siding, since most building materials were transported by rail.

As a boy, I often visited my grandparents’ home; the very same house Clare and I live in now. The home had a screened sleeping porch. Before air conditioning, sleeping on the porch in the summer was cooler than sleeping inside the house. Often I chose to spend the night on the porch. Several trains, pulled by coal-burning steam locomotives, passed on the tracks behind the house during the night. In the morning, my grandmother would come to the porch with a washcloth and a bowl of warm soapy water. She scrubed the soot from my face and hands.

The lumberyard closed at 12:00 on Saturday. After our dinner was served at high noon, if my grandfather and I didn’t go fishing, Dad and I would go uptown, get a treat at Bluebird Ice Cream, and arrive at the Magnolia Street Depot a little before 2:00 P.M. That was the time when four passenger trains stopped in Spartanburg. It was a locomotive traffic jam.

The two Carolina Special trains, one from Cincinnati and the other from Charleston, met each other at 2:00 P.M. The two Piedmont Limited trains, one from New York and the other from New Orleans, met at the same hour. Four of the five available tracks were in use at the same time.  Many travelers made connections in Spartanburg. My dad and I just went to see the trains. Watching four steam-powered engines with passenger cars in tow arriving and departing within a matter of minutes was quite a show!

Spartanburg County has long been a locus of intersections. Several old Indian trails crossed the area east and west, north and south. Both the Catawba and the Cherokee tribes hunted this land.

Later those same trails became wagon roads traveled by pioneers. Near Roebuck, the intersection of Blackstock Road and the Old Georgia Road was a main crossroad.

United States Highways 176 and 29, and, more recently, Interstate 26 and Interstate 85 parallel those ancient Indian trails. Our area has long been a hub. However, it was the railroads that gave our town the nickname Hub City.

Spartanburg’s rail service began with a train from Union and Columbia in 1859.  In 1873 came the Atlanta & Charlotte Air Line, now the main line of the Norfolk Southern from Washington to Atlanta and points west.   With the completion of the Saluda Grade in 1885, Spartanburg was connected with Asheville. This route became the Southern Railway Line from Cincinnati via Spartanburg to Charleston.  Also in 1885, the Charleston & Western Carolina, which ran from Port Royal to Augusta, came to Spartanburg.

The Clinchfield Railroad is an engineering marvel. The rail runs from Elkhorn City, Kentucky, to Spartanburg, passing through more than 450 miles of mountains and fifty-four tunnels along the way.  In 1909, it reached its southern terminus of Spartanburg. The Clinchfield, primarily a coal-carrying line, had one passenger train daily from Elkhorn City. Because Spartanburg was the end of the line, it turned around at Drayton Avenue and backed all the way into the Magnolia Street station.

An electric railroad, the Piedmont & Northern, also came to Spartanburg in the winter of 1913-1914 from Greenwood, Anderson, and Greenville.

Just after the turn of the 20th century, much of Spartanburg’s activity centered around the Southern Station, built in 1904 at Magnolia Street.  The hub connections were completed with the construction of a railway tunnel along Memorial Drive. The tunnel goes under North Church Street, the Southern tracks, and Magnolia Street.

Some have reported that almost 90 trains stopped or passed through Spartanburg daily. The late Dr. Lewis P. Jones, a retired Professor in the History Department at Wofford College and an avid railroad buff, said, “People exaggerated the number of trains that came through Spartanburg.  Some folk counted one train as it arrived, and counted it again as another train when it departed ten minutes later.”

The Magnolia Street Depot fell into disrepair, and much of it was demolished in 1971.  The west end of the structure survived and now has been refurbished. It serves as a center of cultural activity and continues to be used as a railroad station.   Two Amtrak trains, still called the Southern Crescent, stop each day. Now, most rail traffic through Spartanburg is freight, carried by two railroads formed by multiple mergers, the Norfolk Southern line and CSX.

The Hub City nickname for Spartanburg took hold because of the trains.

Since the South Carolina Inland Port opened in Greer, South Carolina, in 2013, as many as eighteen trains and local shifters rumble down the rails by our house each day. Clare and I enjoy living by the tracks in the home built by my grandfather. Our grandchildren take delight in the trains as much as I do. I am glad to report that Hub City is alive and well.

This is a video of the old Southern 4501 steam engine.

NORFOLK SOUTHERN SAFETY TRAIN

November 5, 2017

This afternoon, just after 2:00 PM a brightly painted train rumbled past our house. I had never before seen a train like this one. An internet search revealed that this was the Norfolk Southern Safety Train.

Norfolk Southern’s Operation Awareness and Response program was launched in 2015 in order to enhance working partnerships with local first responders by delivering classroom, web-based, and field training sessions to better equip them to deal with incidents involving hazardous materials and rail operations.

The Norfolk Southern hazmat safety train is a 2,000-horsepower, 273-ton locomotive in livery sporting the insignia of police, fire, and emergency services. It has two boxcars which have been converted into classrooms with a capacity for 30 people, four styles of tank cars (DOT-105, DOT-111, DOT-112, and DOT-1) to train first responders in various car valves and fittings, and two 89-foot flatcars which transport intermodal containers.

Seeing this train moving down the tracks behind our home was quite a Sunday afternoon sight. Here is a brief video for those who missed it coming through Spartanburg.

 

VETERANS DAY: HONORING NATIVE AMERICAN VETS

November 5, 2017

Marvin Joe Curry was a Native American; a member of the Seneca Nation’s Snipe Clan. In 1950 he left high school to enlist in the Navy, and he served two tours of duty during the Korean War. He entered the Naval Officer Candidate School in 1966 and graduated as a chief warrant officer. He then went on to serve in the Vietnam War. During his active duty in the Navy, he served on eight warships, including the U. S. S. Little Rock. Joe was a skilled deep-sea rescue diver. He received numerous honors and retired from the Navy in 1997.

The Marvin Joe Curry Veterans Powwow is an annual event held by the Seneca tribe in honor of all United States veterans. It has been my privilege to attend numerous Native American powwows from Cherokee, North Carolina, to Sisseton, South Dakota. Without exception, the American flag and veterans of military service are honored. In the grand entry a veteran followed by other veterans carries the Stars and Stripes into the dance circle.  Next weekend, November 11 and 12, 2017, Veterans Day Powwows will be held in Austin, Texas, in Richmond, Virginia, and in Clearfield, Pennsylvania. Read more…

HOW THE GRINCH ALMOST STOLE HALLOWEEN

October 28, 2017

When I was a boy, back in the days before the Grinch stole Halloween, October 31 was one of the most anticipated evenings of the year. My friends and I looked forward to the carnival at the elementary school we attended. Halloween was second only to Christmas Eve when excitement, for kids, permeated the night air. No sooner had the sun gone down, than costumed kids of every age flooded the streets of the neighborhood, knocking on doors and shouting, “Trick-or-treat!”

Parents escorting their children stood a few yards away, guardian angels watching over small gremlins and goblins. The trick-or-treaters carried pillow cases or paper bags to collect their bounty.

My friend Rusty always dressed as a pirate, carrying a large pillowcase in which to stash his booty. He stuffed a second pillowcase into his pocket, just in case the first one reached capacity. Rusty’s Halloween range was far greater than mine. He worked his neighborhood of Ben Avon before dark and then came to my street about the time I walked out of my house dressed as a hobo.

We ventured from one house to the next collecting treats. Rusty carried a spray can of whipping cream as he made his rounds. If the treat he received at a home was particularly generous, Rusty marked the driveway with a whipped cream star. A full-sized candy bar – Hershey, Snickers, Milky Way, or Three Musketeers – merited a star. Those were the houses he returned to later in the evening.

Occasionally, we would have meetings with other trick-or-treaters to discuss which houses gave out the best goodies. Rusty was like a crafty angler, concealing his best fishing hole.

Sometimes Rusty would trade treats with other consultants. He always came out on the better end of the deal. I saw him trade three packs of Juicy Fruit chewing gum for a Hershey Chocolate Almond bar and a pack of Topps Baseball cards. The pack had both a Mickey Mantle and a Willie Mays card inside.

I am not sure when the innocence of the holiday was lost, but, with apologies to Dr. Seuss, the Grinch tried to steal Halloween. Due to the general malice of some people, trick-or-treating turned violent. Vandalism replaced tricks. Some treats even became serious threats. Needles and razor blades were hidden in candy and in apples.

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. The reputation of a playful holiday was sullied.

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 ten “Halloween” movies, contributed to the hijacking of a kid’s delight.

Long ago on October 31 and November 1, the Celts celebrated the end of the summer with the harvest festival known as Samhain. They believed it was a time when the dead could visit the living by passing through the thin veil separating this world from the next. They believed that during these few days, they could be reunited with loved ones who were deceased. Bonfires were lit to ward off any menacing spirits that might also return.

Pope Gregory III moved the Christian feast known as 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 Saints’ Day. The Christian church recognized October 31 as the day before a holy day, so Halloween became a holiday of sorts.

Five hundred years ago, in 1517, the leader of what became known as the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther, chose All Hallows’ Eve as the day to nail to the door of the church in Wittenberg, Germany, the Ninety-Five Theses or points of disagreement with the Roman Catholic Church. In those days the church door was like the town kiosk, a place to post public notices. Luther chose the day because he knew many people would attend church on All Saints’ Day.

Luther hoped to raise awareness and prompt discussion in order to bring about needed church reforms. Instead, his plan created such a stir that the church eventually suffered a series of divisions. Many Protestants regard Luther as a hero of the faith. To many Catholics he is considered to be an incendiary rabble rouser. Many Protestant Christians celebrate Reformation Day on October 31. Luther triumphal hymn, “A Mighty Fortress is our God,” is a part of the event.

In recent years, conservative Christians, alarmed by the vandalism and violence associated with Halloween, have renewed the battle to end its observance. The conflict has produced charges from both sides that are unfair and untrue. While conservative Christians want to eliminate Halloween altogether; others prefer to reinterpret it as a holy day.

The celebration of Halloween is as varied as the opinions about the day and its meaning. Many churches have replaced Halloween festivals with Noah’s Ark parties. 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 served until my retirement celebrated with a Fall Family Festival, one of the happiest events of the entire year. Children and adults dressed up in crazy costumes. The event featured games similar to the ones that were a part of Halloween carnivals when I was a boy. Trunk-or-Treat replaced Trick-or-Treat. Families decorated the trunk of their cars or the bed of their pickup trucks. The vehicles were arranged along both sides of a long parking area. Children and their parents moved car-to-car rather than door-to-door, gathering goodies from friendly adults they knew very well.

Present-day families have numerous options. Some omit Halloween altogether. Others celebrate it as a traditional holiday. Still others try to find some middle ground. Even within extended families, there may not 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. That 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’m in charge!” his aunt declared. “You can go to the party at church, but if you want to wear a costume, it must be something from the Bible.”

The boy retired to his room to ponder his dilemma. He devised a brilliant solution. He dressed himself in assorted sports equipment. With his Scout hatchet in one hand and a garbage can lid in the other, he reported to his stern aunt.

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

“Look in Ephesians, Chapter 6,” the lad directed. “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 shod with the gospel of peace. My 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 still not convinced, she quizzed, “And 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!