Letter to parishioners, 30 October 2021

Saturday, 30 October 2021

Dear Friends in Christ,

During the last week I have been in London. Vicky and I have been celebrating our wedding anniversary and enjoying the final few days of the first holiday we have had since 2019. During our time, first in the Lake District and then in the capital, I have seen the ‘seasonal aisles’ of all kinds of shops overflowing with festive fare. It used to be that we would be bemoaning the early marketing of Christmas, but that is no longer the case. Those ‘seasonal aisles’ were overflowing with products designed to enhance our celebration of Hallowe’en. Along with the display of largely black, orange and purple rubbish, I also found myself being wished a Happy Hallowe’en!!!!

As in other things, the American custom of ‘Trick and Treat’ seems to have taken over our lives at the end of every October. We now have to take specific steps to stop people knocking on our doors and inveigling us into participating in a very non-Christian non-festival.

The celebration of Hallowe’en predates the Christian era. The peoples of northern Europe believed that, as the winter nights got longer and darkness prevailed, evil spirits became stronger. In some countries there grew up the tradition of marking 31st October (a day half way between the autumn equinox and the winter solstice as Samhain, a word that literally means ‘summer’s end’. As Samhain sacrifices were offered in thanksgiving for the harvest, and as the bonfires were lit, young people would light torches from the bonfires and run around the fields and farms. Following this annual ritual, ashes from the fires were sprinkled on the fields to protect the crops and, incidentally, improve the soil quality. The lighting of bonfires was later transferred to 5th November, and the children’s running with lit torches has finally evolved into ‘trick or treat’.

In the life of the Church, Hallowe’en is important as a day of preparation. The word Hallowe’en is an abbreviation of All Hallows Eve. Those All Hallows are the men and women who have faithfully served Christ throughout their earthly lives and are now remembered as models of Christian love and service … models we are called to celebrate and honour on All Hallows, or All Saints’ Day.

As well as heralding our remembrance and celebration of two thousand years of honouring and emulating the life of Jesus Christ, this time of year is also a time when we remember all who have died. All Saints’ Day on 1st November moves into All Souls’ Day on 2nd November. We are invited to celebrate the saints, and then we are invited to recall loved ones and others who have died in this world and now rest in God’s nearer presence.

When the ‘facts’ of Hallowe’en are laid out in this way it becomes easier to understand the confusion that has been created by a world obsessed with commercialisation and façade. But … let us, as we enter this season of remembrance, not forget what we should be celebrating. Let us turn our focus from the superstitious to the real. Let us not think about a ‘Happy Hallowe’en’ but rather about the lives of those who have gone before us, thanking God that some of them were truly saints, and that others strived to live lives that were good and true. Rather than trying to elicit sweets and money out of our neighbours, because that is what happens in America, let us celebrate this season by rededicating ourselves to serving God and by helping Christ’s light to shine in the darkness of the lives of all amongst whom we live.

With every blessing to you all,

Revd Stephen