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Halloween not so sweet to some churchgoers

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Date published: 11/3/2012


Journal & Courier


--Heather Salemink of Lafayette has celebrated Halloween since childhood. She can recall dressing in costume and her dad decorating the house.

So even as a Christian, she never questioned whether her children would celebrate the holiday, too.

"Kids need opportunities to imagine themselves in different worlds," said Salemink, 34. "It's really kind of fun to watch them explore different parts of the world through their imagination. In Christianity, there is so much that requires belief in things that you can't see."

But not all religious groups approach Halloween, which took place earlier this week, with such ease and excitement.

Controversy still surrounds the holiday, which has origins in ancient Celtic spiritualism.

Some Indiana pastors call the holiday "divisive" and leave it to congregants to decide whether their families celebrate it and to what extent. Other Christian pastors actively discourage participation in Halloween traditions.

There's a spectrum in other religions as well. The more conservative the faith, the more likely its leaders will shun the holiday or encourage other celebrations that have similar traditions with stronger religious ties.

For conservative Christians, the controversy lies in Halloween's ties to pagan traditions and beliefs. The holiday celebrated on Oct. 31 dates back to 800 B.C. and was called "Samhain" (pronounced "Sawin") in Irish. It was originally a pre-Christian holiday, observed by ancient Celts, the ancestors of the Irish, Scottish and Welsh.

"They believed that there are all kinds of superior powers in the world," said Frederick Suppe, associate professor of Celtic and medieval history at Ball State University. "They saw everything as a dichotomy, between dark spirits of winter and light spirits of summer."

Ancient Celtic beliefs and practices revolved around that idea that Samhain created a loophole for dark spirits--repelled by the sun during summer months--to return, Suppe said.

Even Halloween traditions such as jack-o'-lanterns, bonfires and bobbing for apples have roots in ancient Celtic practices.

"Fire is a means to imitate the sun," Suppe said. "The jack-o'-lantern connects fire with the harvest. You want the good magical influence of the sun to preserve your harvest through winter."

Bonfires were held to imitate the good effects of the sun and keep cattle alive during the winter months. Bobbing for apples was a way ancient Celts let magic decide whom they would marry.

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