Recently Bob MacKinnon, a faithful reader of our Ocracoke Journal, posted a comment (see journal entry for Monday, November 28) about a letter I wrote to the editor of one of our island newspapers. Because most of our readers have probably not read the article I was responding to, or my reply to it,I will include them both in today's post. (And perhaps you will be reminded that the Ocracoke community is diverse and has no shortage of folks who think about things.)
From the November 4, 2005 issue of "The Ocracoker" ("A Pastor's Perspective" by Sam Garris, pastor of the Ocracoke Assembly of God):
"Hello once again. This is Pastor Sam. Just wanted to share a few thoughts this week about Halloween. Now before you go judging me and saying oh here he goes condemming Halloween, just hear me out. I want to share some background with you, then let you make up your mind concerning this once-a-year event. Halloween is deeply imbedded in the Celtic feast of Samhain (saw-wee). The Druids believed that during this event there was a releasing of evil spirits, witches, and demons that would go throughout the country-side terrorizing and picking on innocent people. In order to prevent such attacks, those individuals would wear costumes in hopes that the evil spirits would pass them by. Sound crazy? Well, in our culture, we send our children out to strangers' homes dressed in costumes representing ghosts, Harry Potter, monsters and superheros....Early Christions had a response for this pagan event and on Oct. 31 they proclaimed it 'All Hallows Eve,' from which we get our word 'Halloween.' Then, on the following day, Nov. 1,it was named 'All Hallow's Day,' which was a celebration of all 'The Hollies' -- those people who had died faithfully honoring the name of Jesus Christ. I did not grow up on Ocracoke as a child where families knew one another and could trust each other enough to allow their children to go throughout the neighborhood. We were watched vary closely and our candy was scrupulously analyzed for razor blades or other objects that could harm us. Just be careful not to allow this night to cloud your judgment, and remember that this is a pagan holiday when satanic oppression is at its hightest peak...."
My letter to the editor follows:
"In the November 4, 2005 issue of the "Ocracoker" Sam Garris, pastor of the Ocracoke Assembly of God, shares several comments about the origins of Halloween. I have no reason to doubt that he is correct that this holiday is 'deeply imbedded in the Celtic feast of Samhain,' and that ancient pagans such as the Druids were instrumental in popularizing this festival.
"However, I submit that this is no good reason to shy away from our present-day Halloween celebrations. I know of nothing to suggest that islanders decked out in colorful costumes are reenacting pagan rituals or succumbing to 'satanic oppression.'
"Mr. Garris wisely acknowledges that Ocracokers know one another and trust one another, and seems to recognize that trick-or-treating itself is a harmless late-October activity.
"Were we to abandon the contemporary and wholesome practices of trick-or-treating, our Halloween Carnival, or our spook walk, we would seem logically bound to abandon Christmas and other popular celebrations as well. Many are also deeply imbedded in ancient pagan practices.
"Robert M. Price, in his book _The Incredible Shrinking Son of Man_ points out that December 25 'coincides with a major holiday celebrated throughout the Roman Empire, Brumalia, the eighth and greatest day of the Feast of Saturnalia. It was the (re-)birthday of the sun god Mithras...,a very ancient deity....'
"There is little doubt that December 25 was chosen as the date to celebrate the Nativity, not because there was any reliable history to link it to Jesus' birth date, but because it was already recognized as the sun god's birthday in many places, including Egypt, Persia, Phoenicia, Greece, and Germany.
"As Price comments, 'So might December 25 have been the birthday of Jesus? There's about one chance in 365.'
"Let's not fall victim to alarmist statements about the connection between our contemporary celebrations and ancient pagan festivals. We make of these practices what we will. I see no reason to be alarmed that Halloween, Christmas, Easter, or any other festival is evil just because it may have an historical connection to an ancient non-Christian feast day.
"It's time to just enjoy our holidays, using them as touchstones to celebrate our faith, our commitment to family and friends, and our love of our unique and special community."
I might point out that most, if not all, reports of random poisonings and razor blades in Halloween candy are urban legends.
One of the best sources for information about urban legends is http://www.snopes.com/. Specific information about purported Halloween mischief can be viewed here: http://www.snopes.com/horrors/poison/halloween.asp.
Our current monthly Ocracoke Newsletter is the story of Ocracoke's Street Names, published November 19, 2005. You can read it here: http://www.villagecraftsmen.com/news111905.htm.