For a start they were very low-key. Bobbing for apples in a bucket of water without using hands was about as dangerous as it got at the Sunday School party on 31 October. Well, I suppose a child could have been drowned if there had been someone there of such evil intent or if the supervision had been lax.
Passing round a paper bag containing 'eyeballs' to feel in the dark was as scary as it got. And when the light was turned on and the eyeballs revealed to be grapes gave reassuring relief.
One year at a friend's house I remember carving lanterns from swedes (turnips for some of you), standing those outside the door, then running around inside house covered in an old sheet as a group of children pretended to be 'ghosts' to frighten each other. There was much more laughter than fear.
The Irish/American custom of 'trick or treat' was completely absent around our way and no-one would have dreamt of buying a Halloween costume such as fill the shops now in the commercial run-up to 31 October.
I am sure that I was not harmed by my childhood Halloween activities, any more than I am harmed by erecting a Christmas Tree, which probably has pagan origins at least as old as the pre-Christian late autumnal celebrations such as Samhain. These took place after the end of harvest, the start of winter as the nights get longer and the climate colder. I am aware that there can be a darker evil aspect to Halloween and I would not want to minimise the dangers of getting drawn into occult activities such as sorcery, witchcraft or necromancy. It also seems that there is currently an increasing interest in the occult, perhaps to fill a spiritual yearning that is in us all, but also more dangerously to feed the desire for control over other people. Such things are immensely damaging and destructive.
Some Christians will have nothing at all to do with any of the prevailing Halloween traditions. And will just say, 'we don't do Halloween'. In general I do not 'do Halloween' in its common form. The pumpkins stored in the cold porch of our house are for eating during the winter. Tonight we will go out in the dark, visit a house, knock on the door and expect a treat, but the 'treat' will hopefully be a meal to which our friends have invited us. There will be no 'tricks' and certainly no magic spells. We will enjoy the light and warmth of human friendship on a dark evening, on the eve of All Hallows (All Saints) Day which is a wonderful feast of light. It is a day to remember all those Christians, known and unknown who have gone before us and who in their lives carried the true light, the Light of Christ.
For All Hallows Eve Malcolm Guite has posted on his blog a sonnet of reclamation as a contribution to reclaiming this season for the Christian purpose it has served since the 8th century. You can here him recite it here or read the words below:
"Though Satan breaks our dark glass into shards
Each shard still shines with Christ’s reflected light,
It glances from the eyes, kindles the words
Of all his unknown saints. The dark is bright
With quiet lives and steady lights undimmed,
The witness of the ones we shunned and shamed.
Plain in our sight and far beyond our seeing
He weaves them with us in the web of being
They stand beside us even as we grieve,
The lone and left behind whom no one claimed,
Unnumbered multitudes, he lifts above
The shadow of the gibbet and the grave,
To triumph where all saints are known and named;
The gathered glories of His wounded love."
Image Credit: Commons Wikimedia