In our secular age, there is no battleground as hotly contested as the argument for or against the sacred. Churches opt to meet in gyms or community halls instead of a “sacred space.” A man photographs a crucifix placed in urine as a statement of art. The idea of the supernatural is categorized as an antiquated concept from a backwards era.On a more disturbing level, couples are refusing to get married because they don’t see the use in a piece of paper or a meaningless ritual. The power of the sacred spaces, times, celebrations, and relationships (parental, marital, communal, priestly) was an enriching part of everyday life. Every people from the beginning of history revered these relationships and highlighted their significance in the mythos of that culture. The pathways of ideas that have led to Western society’s secularism can be traced all the way back to Classical Greece, but the most powerful evidence of our current dichotomy between faith and reason (with an emphasis on ditching faith altogether) is the way people live their lives as a result of these insidious ideas. Halloween especially, but other religious holidays as well, is an important cultural bastion against the materialistic ideology.
Originally, the 31st of October marked the Celtic holiday of Samhain (pronounced: sah-win) which was characterized by a celebration of what was termed a liminal time (a time when the otherworld was in closest proximity to our own, a time when the veil was thin). The holiday is about halfway between the autumn and winter equinox and was a time of slaughtering cattle to store up for the winter. The symbolism of the provision of saving life through death is rich in this tradition and many others. Every culture since the beginning of history has celebrated liminal times and they have all had holidays based on the movement of the seasons marked by phases of the moon. There seems to be something real here to the marking of the seasonal changes of life. God gave the Jewish calendar to move along similar lines and the early Christians had no problem with the sharing of holidays with their pagan neighbors. In fact, and this is the important point, the early Christians regularly reclaimed pagan holidays as shadows of the true times that God had given to men to draw near to Him. All truth is God’s truth, all time is God’s time, and if the myth of Christianity were true, it would make sense that it contained elements of all the other religions in the world of men who are programmed seekers of meaning.
If one looks at the various elements of early religions, you see that in the broadest sense they have a lot of similarities. There is the myth of the dying and the rising God, often symbolized by the transition from autumn to winter and winter to spring. There is the fertility of summer, the celebration of life’s transition in the fall. There is an idea of the nearness of divinity and the sacred nature of the life we live and the earth we inhabit. There is the idea of fire and light representing life and joy and salvation. There is the glory of a man and a woman together in the physical, communal, and ritual union as the king and queen of creation (this is seen in many marriage traditions to this day). All of these things and more are themes throughout the religions of the ages and Christianity contains the echoes of them all in the fullness of a true myth. We need not be scandalized by this, Paul wrote about how God has made Himself known through all of Creation and these ideas were used for the Christianization of many cultures and tribes. Halloween itself went from Samhain to All Hallows Eve and All Saints Day on November 1st due to the Christian acknowledgement of the natural rhythm and truths represented by pagan holiday. The chief lie of the our age, “what you see is what you get,” rejects all of these themes in a hubris that leads to an empty life.
We are told now that the longings we have for transcendence, for a relationship to a supernatural being or God-figure is merely an evolutionary bi-product or a social construct. We know this is not true. There are times, liminal times, holidays or memories of holidays, pangs of longing, the beauty of a seascape reached around a bend unexpectedly, of a waterfall when the light reflects the full spectrum of color, an old friend seen for the first time in years, the completion of a project that turned out better than expected and took your all… these moments take our breath away and are gone in an instant. There is something that calls to the deepest parts of our being and we know that secularist is wrong. Halloween reminds us of these things. Christmas reminds us of these things. We need holidays lest the dreariness of this life–so often devoid of the sacred symbols, times, relationships and spaces–smothers the flame inside us. As the church we need to be the beacon of the ultimate sacred light that is Jesus, the true Myth Himself. We live the sacred story of Creation and redemption through the practice of the church calendar, of holidays, of the liturgy of last rites, baptism and marriage. We live it individually and corporately.
God constantly exalts and sanctifies, only humans profane and devalue.