by Mrs Val Morrison, Moderator of the General Assembly of the United Reformed Church
For many children, the fun of Hallowe'en, followed by the thrill of Bonfire Night, seems to herald the beginning of preparations for Christmas. Whilst many adults watch the nights drawing in, and long for summer to come again, young people sense a succession of exciting possibilities for enjoyment.
There is a rumour around that Christians do not have fun and certainly do not want anyone else to enjoy themselves. It's not true. We know that Jesus shared meals with his friends and enjoyed a good party. But I'm not sure Hallowe'en would have been on his list of things to celebrate.
Hallowe'en began as a Celtic pagan festival held on the last day of the northern autumn and their new year's eve, which was the last day of October. The festival was held to honour Samhain, their god of death. It was the Celtic belief that on that night, Samhain gathered the souls of the evil dead who had been condemned to enter the bodies of animals.
It was a time of danger and fear, in which sacrifices were thought to be vital to keep the gods happy. The souls of the dead were supposed to revisit their homes on this day, and ghosts, witches, hobgoblins, black cats and demons were said to roam around. Many peasants left treats on their kitchen tables to please these spirits.
As we read about this, we realise that today's customs, with trick or treat, ghosts, evil spirits, and hollowed-out lanterns, all have their origin in that pagan festival, and its connections with darkness, evil and fear. This is perpetuated in magazines, where I have seen recipes this year for "creepy graveyard cake" and "bloody brains cupcakes" - to name but two.
From the year 610, Christian families got together on this eve of All Saints' Day, in preparation for the remembrance of saints. As today's Christians, I think we have to ask ourselves: not whether or not we want to have a party and enjoy ourselves, but what that party is celebrating? Is it right to celebrate something so intimately connected with darkness, evil and fear? Is it true to the life of Jesus who came to be a light to the nations?
The good news is that it is perfectly possible to have a party without scary masks whilst demanding treats. So enjoy Hallowe'en - by bringing light into this dark world as you do so.
"The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it". (John 1.5)