Star-Bulletin Features

Saturday, October 20, 2001

Gina Lay, right, and a demon at First Unitarian Church.

Spooky or Spiritual?

2 Oahu churches take opposite
approaches to celebrating Halloween,
a day usually devoted to spooks and ghouls

Mary Adamski

Calvary Chapel wants ghosts and goblins
to stay away from its holiday fest

Calvary Chapel of Honolulu has plans for Oct. 31 that might best be described as an antidote to the poisonous mix of devils, ghouls and witches that fill the secular holiday.

Senior Pastor Bill Stonebraker suggests church members invest in a fistful of minipamphlets to distribute in a "tract for treat" twist on the typical Halloween door-to-door pilgrimage for candy.

The church plans its annual "alternative" celebration, a Family Fun Night, from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. Oct. 31, complete with inflated bouncing castle, dunk tank, game booths and treats.

But don't wear the witch, skeleton or devil costume, advises youth ministry Pastor Travis Takamiya. "We ask that they wear biblical costumes," he said. A display of last year's party snapshots shows Roman soldiers, shepherds, and sheep and other animals.

Takamiya said Satan and demons are real and not to be taken lightly. "The entertainment industry has softened what they do, desensitizing people's understanding. People think it is fun and games.

"Devil worship, witches chanting ... it represents everything opposite of worshipping God.

"Halloween is absolutely not Christian," Takamiya said.

Stonebraker's pamphlet for church members, "Halloween: A Christian Perspective," traces the history of Halloween in which then-new Christianity picked up bits of an ancient religion. About 1,400 years ago, the Catholic Church set Nov. 1 as All Saints Day to celebrate all who lived good lives but weren't specifically named in the church's calendar of saints.

Children dress up for Halloween
at Calvary Chapel last year.

The church adapted what was formerly the New Year celebration of the Celtic or Druid religion of the British Isles. The Druids believed that on the eve, spirits of the dead would return and play tricks on humans. To hide from them or scare them off, people wore masks and gathered around bonfires, the pastor wrote.

The idea of the dead returning to haunt the living is not a Christian concept, Takamiya said. And acknowledging the dead as saints "is not accepted by evangelical Christians. We don't glorify the dead.

"Evangelicals don't believe in purgatory, it's not biblical," the young preacher said. "Jesus talked about hell as some place he doesn't want us to go. If someone dies in Christ, he's in a much better place; if not, he's in a much worse place."

Halloween, brought to America by immigrants, evolved into a children's holiday of costumes and candy. In recent years it has become a popular party time for adults.

"It started as an adult thing, so that's not new," said Takamiya. "Now it is like Mardi Gras, a time when 'I think I can do whatever I want.' Costumes and masks are not necessarily wrong, but if I use it to act like I shouldn't ... that's not a good thing."

Takamiya said, "If you ask the average person, they don't know where Halloween comes from. Almost every holiday that started as Christian isn't anymore. It speaks volumes about our culture today. It's very self-indulgent."

Available at the Calvary Chapel shop are colorful cartoon pamphlets. "Trigger Treat" and "Here's a Treat" for kids use a riddle format to deliver a message that "all who join God's family will have eternal life." For adults, there's "Halloween, Separating Fact from Folklore."

Stonebraker wrote, "Halloween is shrouded in idolatry and the glorification of false spirits." But he advised that instead of adding "Thou Shalt Not Commit Halloween" to the commandments, Christians should use it as a missionary event. He suggested that when children appear at the door, people hand them a Bible tract along with candy. Children out on trick-or-treat rounds can hand over a tract in return for candy received.

"You've done the work of an evangelist and turned the evening into something profitable for the Lord," the pastor told his flock.

Witches and vampires will romp with
churchgoers at First Unitarian's festivities

Cutouts of skeletons doing everyday things like eating dinner and riding a bike will decorate the First Unitarian Church as the congregation makes the Halloween holiday uniquely its own.

Children are creating masks, and everyone is welcome to wear costumes for the party, which will include a snake dance through the sanctuary to salsa music.

Besides costumes, celebrants are encouraged to bring photographs or mementos of family or friends who have died to place on the "ofrenda," or altar.

This is the fifth year that the church will borrow the Mexican tradition of Dia de los Muertos -- Day of the Dead -- which combines a festival with memorializing the dead. The Mexican tradition, in turn, combines the Catholic observance of All Saints Day Nov. 1 with the indigenous people's rituals of invoking and honoring the dead, said religious education director Nan Kleiber.

She said adapting the tradition is a natural for the Unitarian Church, which has no doctrinaire creed but draws from the wisdom of all belief systems.

"We don't have any easier time than anyone else in talking about death," said Kleiber, also a University of Hawaii anthropology lecturer. "Celebrating life is very much in our tradition."

After the Oct. 28 party, the Halloween theme will be expanded into a Monster Museum, featuring devils, witches and vampires.

"The function it plays is to acknowledge and deal
with death without it becoming obsessive."
Gina Lay
Speaking about the First Unitarian Church's Monster
Museum, and shown working on a witch costume

The church at 2500 Pali Hwy. -- actually an old mansion that Pastor Mike Young describes as looking like the Addams Family just moved out -- will be open from 6:30 to 9 p.m. Oct. 29-31.

"Halloween is the only time of the year when the Western culture comes close to acknowledging that we die," said Young. "Our whole funerary business conceals the fact that Mama died, primping her in the casket, using euphemisms. Then it comes as a surprise when children develop acute anxieties in dealing with someone's death."

In Mexico, where elaborate altars include pyramids of fruit and other food, candies and candles crafted in the shape of skulls, and macabre toys such as miniature coffins with pop-up skeletons, the festival includes family candlelight vigils in cemeteries and memorial Masses attended by hundreds of people.

Gina Lay, who designed the Monster Museum, said the celebration "is a natural response. People put photos, flowers and teddy bears beside the road where there's been a death."

"The function it plays is to acknowledge and deal with death without it becoming obsessive," Young said.

"It detoxifies the idea of death," said Kleiber. "It is important that we are doing it as community. It's how we comfort ourselves and one another. We do it by talking about it and talking about it, just what we are doing about Sept. 11."

Don't expect deep mourning in dark rooms and morbid "haunted house" surprises. The Dia de los Muertos scene will vibrate with the music of Adela Chu and Espiritu Libre.

But, said Kleiber, "This one will be especially poignant because we are all dealing with how we feel about Sept. 11."

The Monster Museum is totally tongue-in-cheek, Lay said. One scene features a congregation of devils listening to a devil preacher, for instance.

It's a spoof of "devil worship," a viewpoint about Halloween held by some more conservative churchgoers.

"It shocks me that some people think Halloween is bad," said Lay. "For me it has great memories of childhood. It releases everyone to be someone they're not."

"The way to detox scary things is to use humor," said Young. "If people are offended ... it would be because they don't realize we're teasing."

He said "We all wear masks all the time. Halloween is the only time we are honest about it."

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