Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The Thought that Counts

Croatia generally does not celebrate Halloween. Sure, you'll occasionally see cafes or clubs advertising Halloween parties, but the tradition of trick-or-treating has its equivalent in February here. Being outside America and analyzing how others celebrate holidays has led me to take a more critical stance on how I celebrate. So last year, while we were visiting America and anticipating Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas, I asked myself this question:

How are we as American Christians supposed to celebrate the various holidays our culture emphasizes?

I think the decision should begin by making a distinction between participating and celebrating. For Halloween last year, my wife and I decided that our family would participate by allowing our kids to dress up and go trick-or-treating. We had several conversations before the event because we didn't want to do something simply because everyone else was doing it. Nor did we want to reject it simply because it's not a "Christian holiday". Our goal was to make a thoughtful decision knowing that this might create a precedent for other times we're in America during Halloween.

Surprisingly, I had quite a few reasons for allowing our kids to participate in Halloween. One of the reasons was because it seemed like a Jesus-like thing to do. For one thing, it's an extremely relational event - especially in the American context. There is no other time in America when it's ok for a stranger to knock on another strangers' door expecting to be fed. And even though the exchange that takes place is usually short, it is sometimes longer than the typical "hihowareya" strangers often engage in. There's potential for new friendships here.

Plus, even though Jesus took time to withdraw, he often went where the people were. Now, I wasn't taking my kids out with the goal of evangelizing Massachusetts through trick-or-treat. The only point I'm trying to make is that when I ask what Jesus would do, a harvest festival isn't the only answer. Jesus wasn't one to hide away while the crowds engaged in their social activities.

On the other hand, I don't want to simply dismiss the question I wrestle with many other believers; If there are such Satanic tendencies and traditions tied up with this holiday, why in the world would I participate?

I realized that like any religion, Satanism - or more relevantly paganism - is about a constant practice. If one is a Satanist once a year, that person packs no more punch than a Christian who engages in some sort of Christian activity once a year. Nominalism, regardless of the religion, says more about what you don't believe than what you do believe. If I allow my children to participate in Halloween for one day out of the year, the only rituals they are learning is that of dressing up, visiting strangers and eating more candy than usual.

But couldn't Halloween be a gateway for engaging in Satanic/Pagan practices? Could participation lead to celebration? Yes. But, there is nothing in life that is not a potential gateway for evil, overindulgence or excess.  If we are going to truly live, we will be tempted to celebrate all sorts of things that will prohibit us from living abundantly.

As soon as Halloween ended, Christmas advertising began. It increasingly became a way of life for anyone who turned on the television, went into a store or got on the internet between Halloween and December 25th. A habit has been formed. We have to buy. We so easily become slaves to the consumer mentality when it comes to celebrating Christmas right. And the climax to this two-month way of life is Black Friday.

Here the participate/celebrate distinction is important. By choosing to celebrate Christmas last year, my family chose not to participate in the American version of Christmas. In order to celebrate, it's important, I believe, to think about what I can do to try to reproduce the original intent of the holiday. Therefore I see Christmas as a time to thoughtfully engage in gracious gift giving.  Buying became a last resort.

Why? Because buying and consuming is not Christmas. Outside of the American tradition, they're not even related to Christmas! But here is where we get back to celebrating. By giving a gift to my son or grandmother, I am celebrating the fact that I received the most valuable gift from the Divine. That's a big deal! What can I give that will celebrate this fact? Or, even more importantly, how can I give that will celebrate the incarnation. Last year, the answer was for my family to divorce ourselves from the American culture of buy, buy, buy.

I am thankful for my mother and my wife for initiating conversations to this effect last year. After talking about it, we decided to only re-gift. Second-hand stores were the only places we could purchase anything. The other options were giving something that was already in our house or making  something. In the end, it made for a very creative, original and joyful Christmas celebration.

Certainly this isn't the only way to celebrate Christmas, but that's the point. I don't think, in our time and place, that there's only one right way to celebrate. Rather, we should continue to thoughtfully and critically allow our faith to inform how we are involved in those things the people around us celebrate.

What are some other ways we can go against the tide? How have you participated/celebrated Halloween, Thanksgiving or Christmas differently?

3 comments:

Hutchie Bear said...

I never reads blogs. But this post was great. Good analysis of the whole situation.

More Than Red said...

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