Trick or Treat…or treacherous?

Michael Metzger

On December 11, 1620 the Mayflower sailed into Plymouth. The weather was so bad it took 26 days to build the “Common House” for Sunday’s worship. But the Pilgrims enjoyed no Christmas festivities on December 25, 1620. They viewed it as a treacherous event. Rather, they devoted their first Christmas Day to hard labor, including unloading the boats because the Puritans believed Christmas was a Roman Catholic celebration. Governor William Bradford had to reprimand several of the colonists who took Christmas Day off ‘to pitch ye barr, and play at stoole ball and such like sports.’ Fast forward: Today, practically everyone takes Christmas Day off to play and be with loved ones.

In the early 1600s, coffee first reached Europe. The first coffeehouse opened in Italy in 1654. But not everyone consumed the drink, including many religious people who viewed it as immoral. In 1674, an English movement – called the Women’s Petition Against Coffee – declared: “Coffee leads men to trifle away their time, scald their chops, and spend their money.” Fast forward: Today, most churches serve coffee after every service and many are building coffeehouses on their premises.

In fact, this September, Starbucks® celebrated the opening of its 10,000th retailing store at the centuries’ old landmark of Badaling, a heavily touristed section of the Great Wall, 47 miles north of Beijing. It is the 3rd Starbucks to be opened in famous scenic areas after the one in Forbidden City, and the one in Beihai Park in Beijing. Starbucks, which first opened in China in 1999, now has 140 outlets in China.1 Some view this development as a scandalous commercialization of a historical site. For others, the growth of Starbucks is part of knitting China into the larger world.

You might keep this in mind as Halloween approaches. A great many Christians (and churches) shun Halloween because they associate it with treachery and evil. But I believe there is a fair amount of evidence indicating early Christians participated in pagan holidays, events, and rituals because they didn’t think in terms of the “sacred/secular” dichotomy so prevalent today (e.g., this thing is “all-good and godly” while another is “all-bad and secular”). In his 1938 Andrew Lang Lecture (“On Fairy-stories”), J.R.R. Tolkien argued for the appropriateness and legitimacy of Christian involvement in fantasy literature and other mythical events (such as Halloween). C.S. Lewis picked up Tolkien’s ideas in The Discarded Image, where Lewis mourned the loss (i.e., “discarded”) view of all of life being sacred before God. Fantasy literature and Halloween, along with other myths, can open our imagination to a greater story.

Fast forward: How do you view Halloween? The Clapham Institute has published a booklet discussing this holiday. If you would like a free copy, give us a call.

1“Starbucks Shop Opens at Great Wall” (September 20, 2005, AP)


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