Honey, what shall we do with our kids on Halloween?
All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful; all things are lawful for me, but not all things edify. (1 Co 10:23)
Spending all my childhood and early youth in native Romania, I have to admit that I am not (yet) emotionally involved with all the major American Holidays. I am working on it, especially since my family has been naturalized a few years ago, but I find myself a bit of a stranger around these days. This fact, however, offered me the opportunity to research their meaning with fresh inquiring eyes and to not just take them for granted. I take for granted only the Romanian holidays that I grew up with, just like every American does with theirs.
The holidays we grow up with become so engrained over the years, to the point where, although we keep all the rituals, decorations and foods, they start to lose their meaning to us. We celebrate them because that’s what we do, but we rarely bother to recollect their deeper significance. Even great Holidays like Christmas, Pascha or Thanksgiving are rapidly losing their meaning to consumerism and marketing.
The situation gets even more complicated when a Christian Orthodox comes to America, or when an American born joins the Orthodox Church.
The fall-winter season is particularly challenging. First comes Halloween with all its spooky decorations and misdirected fun. Even if you resist the pressure of “can we go trick-or-treating this year?” that kids put on you, just walking through a neighborhood or turning on the TV around Halloween exposes you and your children to unwanted graphic violence and gore. I like to think that I have a pretty robust sense of humor, but some of the stuff you see out there is really bizarre. This year, for example, someone found it amusing to leave a pair of fake crushed corpses under his car on the driveway, prompting the neighbors and other passers to call 911; I bet that was fun for the emergency operators.
But amidst all this mix-up, some actually remember that the night of Halloween started as the evening celebration of the mass for the souls of the departed, or the All Hallows Eve. I read the other day about a gentleman who, on Halloween, sits on a chair on his front porch and hands out lit candles, along with a treat, for the kids who stop by. He also explains to them that the candle is lit for the souls of the departed people whom we pray for on this day. Yes, I know it is not an Orthodox holiday, but I find this much better than scaring the kids with a chainsaw.
Thanksgiving follows right after, but not without its own challenges. This time, we all agree that it is a wonderful family holiday… except for the (in)famous turkey dinner, falling right in the middle of the Nativity Lent! For an Orthodox priest, this never grows old. The American-born Orthodox are torn between their love for their American tradition and their love for their newly embraced Orthodox Church; the cradle Orthodox are torn between their Orthodox Tradition and this new culinary tradition that everyone seems to enjoy so much around them. In fact, I personally think that we all forget that true Thanksgiving comes from the heart and not from the oven, and the best expression of love is not in what we put in our mouth but in what comes out of it; and this is all I have to say about Thanksgiving.
After the Thanksgiving truce comes Christmas, a great Feast during which we should all find ourselves at peace. But even Christmas, an essential Holy Day for Christians of all nations, has lost its track. In the recent “tradition”, rather than preparing ourselves for the coming of the Messiah Christ, through prayer, fasting and almsgiving, we now hold anticipatory Christmas parties (again in Lent) and we spend what’s left of our yearly budget on decorations and gifts.
Understand now my drama? As an Orthodox Christian living in the New World, I feel a tension growing every day between our pure and wholesome Holy Tradition, kept intact by the blood of many generations of martyrs, and the society around that, losing many of its Christian roots, challenges now everything I hold dear. As Orthodox I have to choose again and again every day, and the choice is getting harder.
This is why in the end I won’t give you any advice on what to do for Halloween; I won’t tell you what to eat for Thanksgiving or how to celebrate Christmas. I will only remind you that as Orthodox Christians, old or new, we share a sacred responsibility, no matter where we are, to preserve intact what we have received from our forefathers, so, at our turn, to hand it over to our children, just as pure as we have received it. We are the salt of the earth; we are to change the world by revealing Christ to all, not to let the world change us in turn.