Thursday, October 28, 2010
Christian Alternative to Halloween...and Valeria's Cross!
Not having grown up in a Christian home, I always celebrated Halloween just like all my other friends—dressing up in funny or scary costumes, going to Halloween parties to bob for apples, and running door-to-door to collect as much candy as possible. Of course, our neighborhoods were more “kid-friendly” in those days, meaning that in all my growing-up years I don’t remember ever hearing about a child who had any sort of problem or ran into any type of danger while out trick-or-treating. But I must admit, though my children are all grown and married with families of their own, if I had little ones again now, I’d be hesitant—even if I weren’t a Christian—to send them out on their own at night to collect candy from the neighbors. And I know I’m not alone. Nowadays I seldom see children trick-or-treating without an adult accompanying them, which is obviously a wise choice.
As Christians, however, Halloween always brings up some of the same questions I faced when I first became a believer in 1974. At the time I had two young children, and my third child was born the following year. Nearly all of our neighbors and our children’s friends at school celebrated the holiday, but I no longer felt comfortable doing so. In fact, in response to many of the warnings and cautions I received from more seasoned believers, I decided we shouldn’t celebrate the event at all, since it seemed to glorify death and everything dark and demonic.
When our church (and many others) began offering Harvest party celebrations as an alternative, I still wondered at the wisdom of it since it seemed we were simply caving in to the season by even acknowledging the holiday. Still, Harvest parties gave our children a viable alternative and made it easier not to argue with them each year about why they couldn’t go out and have fun like most of their non-Christian friends and acquaintances.
Years later, when my children were all grown and it was no longer a personal issue for me, I found myself dumped back into the middle of it when I served on staff at a large Southern California church. Sure enough, the approaching month of October brought with it the same Halloween celebration questions I’d been dealing with for a couple of decades. The staff unanimously opted for an annual Harvest party extravaganza (including each of us staff members having to take our turn in the dunk tank, much to our chagrin and the children’s delight!), and the turnout was always excellent. In fact, it was one of our better outreaches to children, rivaling our summertime vacation Bible school in attendance. Each year we had a few unbelieving families who brought their children to our festivals simply because it was safer than having them go door-to-door for candy; occasionally those children (and even the entire families) became regular attendees of our church, making the event well worthwhile.
Yet despite the positive aspects of the Harvest festival, I still found myself bothered by the fact that we Christians felt it necessary to provide an alternative to what was so obviously an anti-Christian holiday. Now I’d certainly heard of the celebration of All Saints’ Day, and I was well aware that Catholics celebrated it each year, but I wasn’t clear on its meaning or purpose. Then, a couple of years ago, something happened that sparked my interest in finding out.
A dear friend and I decided to meet for lunch one day. We hadn’t known one another long, but we had connected quickly and at a deep level because of our commonalities: We were both committed Christians, both published authors, and both dedicated to the idea of writing top quality stories to educate, entertain, and enlighten our readers. So we got together to brainstorm, to toss ideas back and forth, hoping we would hit on one that struck us both as something we’d like to pursue together.
It worked. Before the day was over, we had decided to collaborate on a fictionalized account of a story that would take place in the third century, during the time of terrible persecutions of Christians, particularly under the reign of the Emperor Diocletian. It is believed by many that Diocletian’s wife, Prisca, and daughter, Valeria, became devout Christians during that time. It is also believed (and even memorialized in a monument in France) that an entire legion (6600 men) of Roman soldiers from Thebes, who were also committed Christians, gave their lives in martyrdom rather than yield to the Emperor Diocletian’s command to offer sacrifices to the Roman gods.
And so we wondered, what if Diocletian’s daughter and the head of the Theban Legion had met and fallen in love? What a story that would make! Soon we had a proposal put together, and then a contract, and before we knew it, we were hard at work developing this fictionalized account of combined historical events. Valeria’s Cross recently became a reality, released by Abingdon Press, who caught the vision for this amazing story. In the process of this idea becoming a book, I learned more than I’d ever realized about some of the early “saints” of the Church, many of whom gave their lives rather than compromise their faith. It was a real eye-opener to me, and suddenly I wasn’t quite so willing to toss out the entire idea of celebrating an “All Saints Day.”
According to Wikipedia, All Saints Day is a “solemnity celebrated on November 1 in Western Christianity, and on the first Sunday after Pentecost in Eastern Christianity in honour of all the saints, known and unknown.” In honor of all the saints, known and unknown… I like that thought, don’t you? And though I may not think of saints in the same way as meant by Catholics in reference to All Saints Day, I have begun to see the celebration of this holiday in a different way. Though as I said, I no longer have young children of my own at home, I do have grandchildren and a grandniece, plus one great grandson, all of whom would certainly benefit from learning about those “saints, known and unknown.”
Why not consider incorporating a lesson about one of the early saints or martyrs, or one of the Church fathers, into the candy-and-games celebration of the Harvest festival that has become so popular and widespread among Christians today? As I learned in my studies and research for Valeria’s Cross, there are many positive and edifying aspects to honoring the saints…known and unknown. Perhaps you’ll discover some you’ve never even heard of before, and then you and your children can learn about them together.
Meanwhile, happy All Saints Day to all of you, however you choose to celebrate it!