Local churches are being encouraged to hold ‘light parties’ this Halloween. The idea is to celebrate ‘what’s life-giving and positive’, instead of what’s dark and possibly evil, according the Church of England’s promotional material.
It’s a recognition, as well, that the night when ghosts appear has been seized by commercial interests. Halloween is worth hundreds of millions to the manufacturers of sweets and costumes in the UK, and billions to their counterparts in the US. Who wouldn’t want an alternative?
The annual celebration could also be an opportunity to advertise what goes on in church.
Well, there are sound spiritual reasons to dismiss the church’s suggestion, and there is a wisdom in resisting its move to seize All Hallows Eve for evangelistic purposes.
Halloween is, at heart, a night of play. Carved pumpkins, face paint, tricks and treats express an unruly side of life. They acknowledge a set of forces and realities that a this-worldly, hyper-rational age would prefer to disprove and ignore. The festival breaks through the flatland of modern disenchantment and reminds us of what our ancestors knew, the ‘more things in heaven and earth’ of which Hamlet reminds Horatio.
Play is not a trivial matter, either. It is the core activity for developing the capacities of creativity and imagination that are human birthrights. It’s for this reason that the child psychologist, Donald Winnicott, put play at the heart of what he called the ‘maturation process’.