Halloween Hauntings

My 2011 “Cross-O-Lantern”

In my latest “In Good Faith” column for the Hingham Journal I explore the connections between Halloween and All Saints’ Day including a “shout out” to Sleepy Hollow, New York and Salem, Massachusetts. Basically I’m trying to incite competition between the two communities as they vie for the title “Halloween Capital of the Universe.” May the spookiest town win.


By the Rev. Tim Schenck

Halloween Hauntings

A couple of years ago, I took my two boys on a little Halloween field trip to the cemetery surrounding the Old Dutch Church in Sleepy Hollow, New York. How could I not take advantage of living near what I used to think of as the Halloween capital of the world? We got to the cemetery at 5:30 pm, just as the sun was setting figuring that would add to the spooky factor. Just for the record, the gates officially closed at 4:30 so I guess technically speaking we were breaking and entering. I’ve always considered myself a great role model for my kids.

So there we were lurking around the old gravestones as it got darker and darker. I picked them both up to peek inside the window of the church and talk turned to the Legend of Sleepy Hollow. One of our family traditions is to read the story of the Headless Horseman the week before Halloween. And since it all took place right around the Old Dutch Church I thought it would give them a bit of context to walk the ground upon which the Horseman allegedly trod.

But I admit I also had an ulterior motive: I wanted to link Halloween to All Saints’ Day. All Hallows Eve exists only because it’s the night before the great Feast of All Saints’, the day Christians throughout the world remember the great saints who have come before us in the faith. And this fact gets lost amid the Halloween displays at those temporary costume shops that pop up faster than Wes Welker after a devastating tackle.

Matching wits and colors with a young parishioner

In isolation, Halloween has no meaning – besides free candy and cute kids in ghoulish garb. Which is a fine thing in itself. And it’s all in good fun, unless your house gets egged or someone puts toothpaste on the door handle of your car. Something I surely never did as a teenager.

But beyond the Twizzlers and Snickers Bars and Harry Potter costumes, it’s a pretty empty experience unless it’s connected to something deeper. In other words, it’s all about context. We dress up in costumes to mock death; that’s the history of this practice. And it comes out of the bedrock belief of the Christian faith – that through his death on the cross Jesus has destroyed death. Death no longer has dominion over us which means we can mock death because it has no power over us. That’s the essence of All Hallows Eve. That’s the context; that’s the meaning.

It’s important to remember that we are connected to something beyond ourselves; a way of keeping our lives in the context of faith; a way that offers meaning and hope amid the changes and chances of our mortal existence; a context that brings to bear the mystery and meaning of the divine right here, right now. Those are the opportunities that present themselves in the holidays and holy days that mark our calendars.

Now that we live in New England we brought the boys up to that other Halloween capital of the world earlier this month: Salem. I’m not sure when this community stopped feeling shameful about its gruesome past and embraced the marketing and economic potential of its history. But I have never seen more witch kitsch anywhere in my life. And while it was fun to poke into some of the stores a few of them were genuinely frightening – the ones where they weren’t kidding about being witches.

Enjoy what retailers are calling “the other Christmas” this weekend. But I also encourage you to think about the deeper meaning of Halloween and its connection to All Saints’ Day. Making connections; giving context; expressing faith. It’s a work in progress for all of us.

When we came home for dinner after our illicit visit to the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, we prayed for all those whose graves we visited and for those who have come before us in the faith. For Halloween that year, Zack decided to go as Jango Fett from Star Wars. Ben went with the then-first baseman for the Yankees Jason Giambi. And , yes, I realize that Ben’s costume would be seen as truly ghoulish for anyone in Red Sox Nation.

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