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Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Annual Christian Harvest Wars: Sowing Seeds of Understanding

Hagebutte 2008-2-9
Rose Hips
By Hedwig Storch (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
Virtually every person alive has been touched by death.  Having had an abundant share of experience with death in my own life, I have had plenty of opportunity to observe the reactions of people to it.  They certainly vary.  Some people are rather stoic and insist that death must be whisked away quickly and completely, and not dwelt upon.  Others choose, or are at least intuitively compelled, to live through, rather than "get over" grief.

Christian views vary, in much the same way, about the October holidays.

Archaeological and historical evidence teach us that people and cultures have always been fascinated by death and dying.  The perennial human question, "What happens after we die?" reappers throughout the history of humankind.  Cultures in every time period through the ages seem to have come up with some sort of communal answer, even if individuals continues to wonder if it was correct.  Cultures always develop some sort of remembrance that ties the dead to their loved ones.

Of course, as Christians we know that because of the death and resurrection of one man, those questions are answered.  Nevertheless, loved ones who die are still gone from us; we still feel their loss.  

Benjamin D. Esham / Wikimedia Commons [CC-BY-SA-3.0-us
 (], via Wikimedia Commons
As the leaves begin to turn and the days gradually lengthen, we are approaching the transition from Fall to Winter.  The leaves will fall; the final harvests will be brought in, and we will prepare for the long sleep of winter.  This is the time of year when our thoughts naturally turn to death and dying.  

The Church has set aside key days in this period for a remembrance of those who have died and for the contemplation of our own deaths. In the Western church,  All Saints Day, on Novemember 1, and for some Christians, All Soul's Day on November 2, are the key celebrations.  Of course, like all holy days, All Saints has an eve.  All Saints Eve falls on October 31.

There are pagan celebrations associated with these days as well.  Of course there are; we live in community and the development of human observance is impacted by that which went before.  Some Christians reject any observance which carries some vestige of association to a prior practice; others recognize the Christian transformation of a prior non-Christian practices as the triumph of Jesus over death and all things worldly.

Many Christians, especially lately, prefer to call the celebrations at this time of year "Harvest Festivals".  I have found rather interesting the Christian push over the last 40 or so,  to shift the focus of the October celebrations from the winter sleep of the fields to the harvest.  After all, the harvest of the final fruits of earthly plantings is a great thing, but, the winter death of temporal things means rebirth into the eternal. Whether we like it or not, death is part of life.  Death for Christians means life eternal.  I'm not sure why we would want to limit our focus to the last fruits of Eathly life, when we could include the first fruits of death.

For as in Adam all die, so in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own turn: Christ, the firsfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. 
 ~1 Corinthians 15: 22-23

I don't believe that there is much healthy about immersing ourselves in death, but neither do I believe that it is healthy to entirely ignore it either.  The church calendar is a cyclical experience of all things human and eternal.  It touches every part of the human experience of life and death, and leads us from the human to the divine.

By Photo (c)2006 Derek Ramsey (Ram-Man) (Own work (Own Picture))
 [GFDL 1.2 (],
 via Wikimedia Commons
We need not be afraid of death, because Our Lord has triumphed over it, but that does not mean that it does not impact us emotionally.  It also does not preclude the fact that when faced with the harsh reality of death, we may suddenly have an intense need for confirmation of what we have always believed about it.  In those days which span the gulf between the end of October and the beginning of November, time has been set aside by the church for us to contemplate these things, celebrate those who have gone before us, prepare for our certain entry through the passage they have traversed, and give thanks for our assurance, in Christ, of hope.

We can ignore these things, because non-Christians before us have held celebrations at this time of year that are not infused with beauty and truth, or we can use them to strengthen our Christian walk and heal our souls.

I choose the latter.  At the same time, the great annual Fall challenge is to avoid the annual Christian divide between those that celebrate All Hallows and those who do not.  Unfortunately, the Holy Days that are intended to give us hope and healing can also serve to divide us from our brothers and sisters in Christ.  In a year that is already infused with tension and division due to the upcoming election, I hope that we can strive to avoid this fracture in the Christian community.  At the least, we can achieve understanding of and respect for the views and practices of other Christians.  I hope that we can use this time of hope and healing to sow unity among the living.

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  1. Hi Michelle,
    Interesting thoughts on death and the fall festivals. I'd never considered that before, but I agree with you on working to bridge the divide in the Christian community. I wish the Church was as concerned with finding common ground.

    Linking up from A Holy Experience,

  2. What about the kids though? I tend to lean toward the "harvest festivals" because they are the only kid friendly non commercialized events. They do tend to focus on nature but I feel that is way better than what the secular world offers in terms of trick or treating...would love your thoughts. My kids already think I'm horrible for not taking them trick or treating anymore. Have you see what kids' costumes look like these days??

    1. I have seen the costumes, and it is downright disturbing. Having an 18 year old, I'm pretty amazed at the things that non-Christian (and some Christian) girls decide to wear on the eve of a Holy Day (or any day for that matter).

      I believe though, that like Mardi Gras, St. Patrick's Day, and other Christian celebrations...we can throw the observances of our historic Christian heritage to the dogs, or we can grab hold of them and retain our ownership over them.

      Trick-0r-Treating is probably the biggest challenge for Christian parents. There are Christian elements in the history of the practice ("Going A-Souling"). I anticipate a post on that soon. At any rate, each Christian parent must make decisions about these things, and it would be lovely if other Christian parents would respect those decisions.

      Being Orthodox, I would imagine that you have a particular challenge at this time of year. For you, of course, the Sunday of All Saints falls at a different time in the Church calendar. Western Christians generally have All Saints festivals (in traditional churches) on All Saints (All Hallows) Eve where children dress as their favorite saint so that the focus is kept pure. Protestants have Reformation Day, since October 31 is the day that Martin Luther posted the 95 Theses on the Church Door. For Orthodox though, I suppose that Halloween is just...Halloween. I can see the quandary.

  3. Thought-provoking post...I do agree with you on working to bridge the divide in the Christian community on this topic.


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