The local church and Halloween

By Megan R. Harrell
STAR CORRESPONDENT
The origin of Halloween can be traced to a Celtic festival that marked the end of the harvest and summer. More than two thousand years later, the holiday has evolved into America's second largest commercial holiday.
The customs associated with Halloween have changed drastically, but its origin causes some local families to take pause before participating in the holiday.
Several local pastors believe that, even though Halloween may seem innocent and entertaining, families should research the historical roots surrounding the observance of Halloween.
"We are against Halloween because it is a heathen holiday," said Rev. Bill Younce, pastor of Lighthouse for Jesus located on U.S. Highway 19E.
Younce said he isn't concerned with current traditions but the ancient customs that gave birth to what we now know as Halloween.
A variety of accounts exist on the genesis of Halloween. However, most of them agree that the Celts associated the last day of October with human death, believing that the boundaries between the living and dead became blurred on the eve of the ancient new year.
According to the History Channel Web site, the Celts set aside Oct. 31 to observe Samhain. They believed that the ghosts of the dead revisited the earth on this night, damaging property and crops. The Celtic people thought that the presence of these spirits made it easier for priests and druids to make predictions for the year ahead.
The event brought about festivities including bonfires where crops and animals were offered up as sacrifices to Celtic spirits. It is believed that the tradition of wearing costumes was born when the Celts dressed themselves with sacrificed animal heads and skins at the ceremony.
The holiday continued to change over the years, and by 800 A.D. the Catholic Church had revamped Samhain. In an attempt to replace the festival of the dead with a church sanctioned holiday, the pope commanded that November 1 be set aside to honor saints and martyrs of the church. October 31 was then slated, All-Hallows Eve, meaning All Saints Day in Middle English.
When European immigrants came to America, they brought an array of different Halloween traditions with them that have also evolved over time. Therefore, it is difficult to pinpoint exactly where a lot of today's customs, such as trick-or-treating, and bobbing for apples, truly originated.
Rev. Younce acknowledges the fact that small children today do get caught up in the activities associated with Halloween, and that it would be unfair to completely deprive them of the traditions.
Lighthouse for Jesus, like many other churches across the nation, has developed alternative entertainment on Halloween night.
"The children hear it at school, and from their peers, so we try to make sure that they are not left out. We don't mistreat our children," Younce said.
The pastor encourages the children in his congregation to gather at the church Halloween night instead of trick-or-treating.
"Usually all of the children in the church come. We treat them and have games for them to play," Younce said.
Some churches in the area see Halloween as an opportunity to reach out to the community. Carla Forbes is the children's ministry director at Elizabethton Alliance Church, located on East Elk Avenue, and she looks forward to meeting several children Friday night during downtown trick-or-treating.
"We see it as an opportunity to be a witness for good to the community," Forbes said. "I have special tracts for children made up, and we give out little flyers about our children's ministries."
Several years ago a former pastor made the decision to open the doors of his church to the community on Halloween night. Trick-or-treaters will be welcomed with beverages at the storefront church.
Forbes stated that her church does not collectively celebrate Halloween, but they do not back away from it either.
"Ignoring it is not going to make it go away, and we try to seize every opportunity for the Lord. I think that is all any of us can do," Forbes said.
Milligan College is also offering an alternative to trick-or-treating Halloween night. One women's dormitory is hosting seasonal festivities that are open to students, faculty and staff, as well as the entire community. More information on the event is available at 423-461-8735.