Monday, September 29, 2014

What's Wrong with Halloween, Anyway?

Pumpkins & Candy - Traditional Halloween Fun
The observance of Halloween is a cause for endless controversy amongst Christians. Some love it, some hate it, and everyone gives reasons.

Members of the "love it" camp tend to make these arguments:
  • The kids enjoy it, and I don't want to take their fun away.
  • What's wrong with enjoying an American tradition?
  • Dressing up and eating candy - what's not to like?
  • This was the traditional way for Christians of the British Isles to denounce the Evil One, by pretending to "scare him away" on the Eve of All Saints Day (All Hallow's Eve)
  • What's wrong with dressing up as a Princess or a Fireman?

In response to the "love it" arguments, I think: If something is good, I want to do it. But I don't want to just "go with the flow" to fit into our culture if something is not good. I'm skeptical of the "Godly origins" argument for the holiday - it just doesn't seem consistent with the general aura of the day (or, month, really - since the observations start more than a month in advance nowadays). We can dress up and eat candy without using this for an excuse. 

And, as for the Princess and Fireman, I've noticed that these disappear in very early childhood to be replaced by things less innocent. They're rather like "gateway" costumes.

Members of the "hate it" camp tend to make these arguments:
  • Halloween has evil origins.
  • Creepy & Scary aren't Christian virtues.
  • Too much candy rots kids teeth out, and causes other health problems.
In response to the "hate it" arguments, well, every post I've seen on the evil origins of Halloween seems to indicate that Christians need to live in fear of the Evil One - as if his power could rival that of God's if we just tip the scales the tiniest bit. They often even detail things that Christians should never discuss (Ephesians 5:12) or post pictures that should never be put in front of Christian eyes (Psalm 101:3). All of this makes the Evil One look powerful and glamorous, when in reality, he has been defeated by the Cross of Christ.

And, I'm much less concerned about the history of Halloween than about the current practice. 

Besides that, I let my kid eat more sugar than she should at Christmas, too. If sugar were the only issue, I wouldn't worry about it.

I've never been really comfortable with either set of arguments, to be honest. 

I dislike Halloween, but I've never been able to put my finger on why well enough to explain it to my little one. I don't want to give her nightmares by trying to explain to her about all the creepy stuff other people do on this holiday. And, I think the Bible clearly instructs us NOT to give a lot of attention to wrongdoing (Luke 10:20), nor to try to oppose the Evil One by ourselves, but to depend on the Lord to do so (Jude 1:9-10).

As C.S. Lewis said so profoundly in the Preface to The Screwtape Letters,
"There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the
devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to
feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally
pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same

So, while I always want to avoid what is evil, I also do not wish to give that evil undue attention, nor to make my daughter fear what Christ has already defeated for her (Matthew 10:28). 

A couple of years ago, my conversation with my little daughter went something like this:
"Mom, why don't we celebrate Halloween? I like playing dress up and eating candy."
"Okay, let me explain it like this, honey, what do we celebrate on Christmas?"
"The Birth of Jesus"
"What do we celebrate on Pascha (Easter)?"
"The Resurrection of Jesus."
"And, what do people celebrate on Halloween, I've never told you, but can you figure it out?"

Well, that should probably be enough to explain it. But, it was always more of a niggling feeling than something I could put into words. Until this year, that is.

This year, we have had the uniquely Christian experience of saying goodbye to a beloved devout Christian friend on his way from this life into Eternal Life. He prepared for his journey by participating in the Sacraments of the Church. As we lived this experience with him and his family, we touched the miracle of Jesus' Victory over Death. We said "Goodbye" not forever, but until we could meet again. We see our friend's body as Sacred - it will rise again at the Last Day, as the Scriptures say. We said prayers for him, his body was anointed, we made our Cross before his casket, we kissed his body, we kissed the Icon of the Resurrection, and we interred his body in the earth, like a seed awaiting Spring. Although every moment was filled with grief for our loss of him, every moment was also Holy, Sacred, a preparation for Eternity with Christ.

The following day, I went to the grocery store and I was slapped in the face with what Halloween really is. There, on prominent display, was a creepy model of a skeleton of a human being with distorted features, covered in cobwebs. The plastic image did not remind us that this was the body of a human being, meant to be reunited with Christ at the Last Day, a seed to be planted in the earth and one day to be united with Christ. Instead, it was made to look loathsome, creepy, scary - horrifying. Not at all consistent with the Christian view of the reality of death.

And then, I realized the true function of Halloween in our culture.

The function of this so-called "holiday" (regardless of historical facts about its origin) is to make human beings repulsed and terrified at the idea of death and entering Eternity. And, in fact, to focus so much on either thinking about their fear of death, or refusing to think about death at all, that they completely fail to prepare for eternity. It is easy to notice on a moment's reflection that nearly every Halloween image is a distorted image of death - a lie about death.

Rather like someone who is terrified of flying, and must move to move to a new country, they could easily spend so much time thinking of their fear of the flight, that they completely forget to prepare to pack the right things in their suitcase, or give proper care to arranging for a place to stay upon arrival.

The Saints of the Church tell us "Remember Death" which is to say, keep our eyes on being properly prepared to enter an Eternity with God.

But, Halloween teaches us to be so frightened and repulsed that we avoid thinking about death at all costs. We cannot prepare for what we do not think about.

And, although I always hear people say, "It's just make-believe" the reality is that the fear that is engendered in human hearts through make believe, or fiction, often has just as strong an effect on the human psyche as does reality. We all know countless people who have developed strong fears by watching "horror movies." And, once those fears are planted in us, especially in childhood, but also in adulthood, they are incredibly difficult to overcome.

Even though the Evil One has been defeated by Christ's Death on the Cross, WE can choose live as if that defeat had never happened, to give the Evil One a place that is not his, by cowering and pretending he has a power he does not have.

Instead, we should see Death as what it is, now that it has been defeated by Christ. It is the door that opens when we enter Eternity. We need to live our lives preparing to walk through that door and enter a Holy, Eternal Life with Christ, rather than imagining that it is too scary to think about.

So, whatever your decision about whether your kids dress up as Princesses and Firemen and eat Candy the neighbors give them  - or don't - keep your focus on the reality. Be aware of the effect that the images of this season can have on the human psyche.

Eternity is what comes next. We're all going to "walk through that door" one day, if Christ should tarry.

Let's focus on being prepared, and as the Saints advise "Remember Death."

Here's a video I really like - perhaps you'll enjoy it too (it's only about 5 minutes.)

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Monday, September 15, 2014

Red Lentil & Artichoke Stew

This stew is delightful - a slight departure from the norm, without seeming too strange to less
adventurous palates. Our whole family enjoys this one, and, like most of my recipes, it is really easy to make.

It's great any time of year, as it is not too heavy for a Spring or Summer meal, but can be pleasantly warming during the cooler weather of Fall & Winter. 

I adapted this greatly from another recipe a few years back, but I cannot recall where I got the original recipe.

Red Lentil & Artichoke Stew
Sort, rinse well, and drain
1 1/2 cups Red Lentils (Split Masoor Dal)
Place in a large pot with
2 Cups Water
1 Cube Bouillon
1 Cup Chopped Onion (1 large Onion)
1 teaspoon Minced Garlic
2 teaspoons Ground Cumin
1 teaspoon Ground Coriander
2 Bay Leaves
2 Cans Chopped Tomatoes (not drained)
1 (15 ounce) can Artichoke Heart Quarters (OR 1 9-ounce bag  frozen)
Dash Cayenne
Simmer till lentils are tender, about 30 minutes.
Add to taste
Lemon Juice (about 2 Tablespoons)
Salt (about 1/4 teaspoon)
Pepper (about 1/4 teaspoon)

Serve with Green Salad & Crusty Bread

Red Lentil & Artichoke Stew in the Slow Cooker
For even easier preparation, prepare in Slow Cooker with pre-made Yachni Sauce from your freezer:
Place in Slow Cooker:
3 Cups Yachni Sauce, thawed
1 1/2 Cups Red Lentils, Rinsed well & Sorted
2 1/2 Cups Water
2 teaspoons Ground Cumin
1 teaspoon Ground Coriander

1 (15 ounce) can Artichoke Heart Quarters (OR 1 9-ounce bag  frozen)
Dash Cayenne
Cook on High, 3 to 4 hours, till lentils are tender

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Monday, September 8, 2014

3 Minute Sweet & Sour Dipping Sauce

3 Minute Sweet & Sour Dipping Sauce
My daughter's Godmother often has us over for dinner, and Spring Rolls are often a special little extra that she makes just for me when others are having meat. The other night, she sent us home with a nice box full. When I went to heat them to serve them for dinner tonight,
I discovered that I had no appropriate sauce. Nor did I have the Pineapple Juice that is a featured ingredient in the Sweet & Sour recipe I had on hand.

So, I did an Internet search, and from a recipe on (which was not vegan, nor did it quite match my tastes - but it was a great starting place), I created my own super-quick, no pineapple juice, microwavable Sweet & Sour Dipping Sauce. It can easily be whipped up from ingredients that most homes have on hand most of the time. And, it was a big hit : )

This recipe calls for boiling a sugary liquid in the microwave. For that reason, you'll need a larger cup than you might expect for the amount of liquid (I used a largish microwavable teacup). You'll also want to use care not to spill the boiling liquid on yourself when removing it to stir it, etc.

A little of this goes a long way - the small batch here satisfied our small family & was sufficient for about a dozen Spring Rolls.

3 Minute Sweet & Sour Dipping Sauce
Stir Together in large microwaveable cup:

1 Tablespoon Water
1 Tablespoon Catsup (or, Ketchup, if you prefer ; )
1 Tablespoon Soy sauce
3 Tablespoons Sugar
2 Tablespoons Vinegar (I used Rice Vinegar)
1 teaspoon Tapioca Starch (Or Cornstarch)

Microwave 30 Seconds, Stir, and microwave 30 more seconds, or till very bubbly. Stir. If needed, microwave another 30 seconds. Stir & Serve. 

Large Batch 3 Minute Sweet & Sour Dipping Sauce
Stir Together in large microwaveable cup:

1/4 Cup Water
1/4 Cup Catsup (or, Ketchup, if you prefer ; )
1/4 Cup Soy sauce
3/4 Cup Sugar
1/2 Cup Vinegar (I used Rice Vinegar)
1 Rounded Tablespoon Tapioca Starch (Or Cornstarch)

Microwave 30 Seconds, Stir, and microwave 30 more seconds, or till very bubbly. Stir. Repeat 30 second increments, stirring each time the microwave stops, until the mixture is very bubbly. (Total cooking time should be less than 2 minutes) Stir & Serve. 

Note: If you have no microwave, this can be cooked in a small saucepan on the stove top. Stir it constantly until it boils - which won't take long. 

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