On Tuesday afternoon I carefully drove out of the driveway in order to pick up one of my daughters who was trick or treating with her friends in Brielle. As I pulled out of the driveway, I saw that the street was packed with kids of all ages going from door to door. There were young children with their parents, there were groups of friends and there were people who were running from house to house in order to get as many candies as possible.
As I was driving on First Avenue approaching Hillside, in the corner of my eye I saw a father with his three kids. Although this street was filled with kids, it was that father who somehow caught my attention. Suddenly I saw myself with my father and sisters 50 years ago; but it was a different holiday, it was a different tradition.
It was the winter of 1957 and the Communists had been in the land over 10 years. They had abolished all the Christian holidays and on days such as Christmas we had to go to school. It was a school day and it was Christmas morning. My Father woke up my sisters and I at around 3 o’clock AM. It was Christmas morning and we were the carolers; we were the angels of God in the land of Pharaoh announcing that Christ was born. We started early so that we could go to all our relatives and sing Christmas carols. Between 5-7 AM you could hear the children and adults carol from house to house. For in this land of oppression, in spite of the order received from the government not to carol, there were hundreds of children with their parents caroling on Christmas morning. Some caroled because they believed in the birth of Jesus Christ, some caroled because it was a sacred tradition passed from one generation to another, and some caroled just to show that they were not afraid.
As I saw the hundreds of kids on the Halloween Day, I asked myself whether these children will carol on Christmas Eve or Christmas morning. Will the streets of our community teem with children singing their carols to Jesus? Many years ago all the children would go caroling because it was a national holiday. Today there is an absence of carolers and one is hard-pressed to convince even our church children that we should go caroling. They and their parents are too busy doing so many other things that heralding the birth of Christ is slowly disappearing from our society.
Our schools have programs for Halloween and the halls are filled with pictures celebrating this holiday. Some schools have competitions for the scariest costume, the goriest, and the most innovative. On Christmas the same teachers who can put Halloween pictures and promote the events are instructed not to say “Merry Christmas” because they will offend someone.
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As I was shopping on Monday night at the Halloween store in Middletown, I overheard a conversation between a mother and a daughter. “Why can’t I get that dress?” “Because you are 13 and you look slutty in it!” Even the local county paper ran an article showing that the dresses for Halloween are getting more risqué and sexier and parents and children are getting dressed in very questionable outfits. After looking around for about two hours, because I do not allow my daughters to dress in anything that looks evil, bloody, satanic, or inappropriate, we left with some earrings, some eye shadow, and some other makeup.
It is very interesting to me that whenever I talk with African Christians who are students in the United States one of their big puzzles is how Halloween dominates our national life. When they look to our Halloween, they are reminded of the demonic world and all the witchcraft that they encounter back home. Yet, in the United States we have sanitized Halloween and welcomed it in school and in our churches, while we have pushed Christmas out of our schools and some protested last year when Christmas was on a Sunday because we had to go to church on Christmas Eve on Saturday and for Christmas Worship Service on Sunday.
From the distance, it was as though I heard the voice of my Father saying: “Son, how are you raising up my granddaughters? Are you standing up for the faith that was delivered once for all to all the saints? Are you keeping the Christmas tradition?” And I had to confess that I have taken my daughters to more Halloween parades and more neighborhood trick or treats than I have taken them caroling on Christmas Eve or Christmas morning.
My heart was breaking, my eyes were filled with tears and I made a commitment to myself and to God that this Christmas we will go caroling again!