This article was originally published in Edition (8) of Prayer Magazine,  Oct-Dec 2006.

Most of us have heard of Hallowe’en and know that it’s got something to do with witches and ghosts, but how did it all start?  The origins of Hallowe’en lie in the distant past when celebrations were held by the Druids in honour of Samhain, Lord of the Dead, whose festival fell on 1 November and marked the Celtic New Year and the entry of winter.  It was the Druids’ belief that, on the eve of the festival, the dead revisited the earth.  Meals were left out to put the dead in good humour, fires were lit and loud noises made to frighten away evil spirits.

The early Church in Great Britain preferred to give existing ancient festivals new meaning rather than seeking to abolish them.  Hence, the pagan festival of Samhain was changed and focus placed on All Saints’ Day (1 Nov) and All Souls’ Day (2 Nov).  Both of these days were more important than the eve of All Saints, or All Hallows (from which we get the word Hallowe’en) which fell on 31 October, but neither succeeded in replacing the pagan elements of the earlier festivals.

These pagan elements account for most of the visible and commercially exploited aspects of October 31, ghost and witches costumes, and pumpkin lanterns may seem a far cry from secret rites to appease ancient deities, but it is what lies below the surface of this culture that causes concern.  Witchcraft, communicating with or appeasing the dead, fear of evil spirits and divination are all part and parcel of the belief system involved.  The popularisation of New Age beliefs in recent years has no doubt contributed to the ease with which these essentially occult practices are seen as acceptable.

What is “Trick or Treat”?

Though ‘Trick or Treat’ has its historic origins in the UK, it’s more recent growth and commercial popularity has come from interest in America.  It is believed that in the earlier part of the 20th century a group of US-based Irish labourers used Hallowe’en as an opportunity to demand money with menace.  This was later toned down and popularised as a ‘light-hearted’ neighbourhood activity.  It is now a very strong part of popular culture in the States.  Children will come home from school, dress up in some outlandish outfit (such as a witch, a goblin or a ghoul) and go knocking on doors shouting “Trick or Treat”.  If the person opening the door does not give them a ‘treat’ (eg sweets or money) then the youngsters threaten to ‘trick’ them and play a joke or a trick on them.

Lloyd Cooke warned: “Treat might seem an innocent ‘fun’ pastime.  However, the outlandish outfits can be alarming, particularly to the elderly and the whole idea of demanding money with menace would be condemned as criminal at any other time of the year.  At its best it is a form of harassment that is a nuisance, at worst it’s a frightening form of extortion.  It seems impossible to justify this practice by saying it is a fun activity for children.  The youngsters themselves are exposed to danger by going out in the dark alone and knocking on the doors of complete strangers.  Many people worry that a refusal to respond to the demand might bring an unpleasant response.  The tricks played may shock, frighten or hurt elderly people, or animals at the door or damage properties and gardens.

Of even more concern is the potential spiritual damage that might be caused to children who might be tempted to dabble in the occult as a result of their Hallowe’en interest.  For such children, this ‘fun’ activity might become a doorway to darkness.”

It doesn’t have to be this way in our communities.

Schools and Police throughout Staffordshire have backed a pioneering county-wide initiative which is seeking to remove the growing fear and menace of the traditional Hallowe’en practice of “Trick or Treat”.  The campaign is organised by the Saltbox Christian Centre, a registered charity that supports the work of churches, schools and voluntary organisations. 

The campaign became an overnight success in 1994 when it was first launched in North Staffordshire.  An initial run of 10,000 eye-catching leaflets was produced with the support of a local bus company and, amazingly, within less than two weeks all the leaflets had been snapped-up!  

Since then the campaign has become an annual project and has now extended to cover the other parts of the region, with all leaflets carrying the crest of Staffordshire Police.  Last year the Saltbox campaign distributed over 100,000 leaflets.

The project is supported by concerned community groups as well as by church leaders from various denominations who have backed the initiative by endorsing a letter of support sent to all 400 primary school headteachers in Staffordshire.  In 2004, the great news was that 33% of all Staffordshire Primary Schools requested leaflets for their pupils, recognising the growing danger of unsupervised children going out onto the streets late at night.

Response

It is always a risk to organise a community campaign and to take a stand on an issue, and the Saltbox initially braced themselves for criticism (ie ‘killjoys’).  In fact they received universal support!  Media coverage was extensive, all of it positive.  Lloyd Cooke, the director of Saltbox, who ran the original campaign said:

“The more you canvas public opinion the more you are forced to the conclusion, that at best, many people find the practice of “Trick or Treat” a real nuisance and an unwelcome intrusion; at worst, it creates fear and gives opportunities for vandalism and cruelty.  From a Christian perspective, such a campaign may also help to undermine the growing interest of many young people in the occult”.     

I believe that locally run “Trick or Treat” campaigns are likely to find enthusiastic support from across a full range of community groups and organisations.”       

Of course prayer is supporting the initiative wholly, where churches and Christians who are involved pray sometimes through the year that the project maintains its success and also breaks into new areas.

You can make a difference in your area, by starting from a place of prayer.  Perhaps this year it’s too late to get involved, but start to pray each week toward this project becoming part of the life of your church for next year.

Though the Saltbox shared general Christian concern about the growing interest in the occult, its local media and public relations strategy simply focussed on the ‘community benefit’ aspects of the campaign.

Christians don’t need to apologise for taking a stand against something it doesn’t agree with, but it is important in stating the case, to be clear of our facts, firm in our convictions and loving in way in which we promote projects within the community.  When Prayer becomes a supporting force to projects like this, you begin to see barriers you ‘thought’ were there disappear.

To encourage the growth of this campaign in your area, why not contact Saltbox through their website www.saltbox.org.uk or by phone on 01782-207200

 

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