Baptizing the holidays
When I was a younger pastor, the distinctions between black and white were very sharp. Sin was sin, wrong was wrong, and hell was hot.
I still believe that hell is hot but it just may be that not everything I thought qualified as a sin was actually a sin.
For example, time once was that, if someone asked my advice, I assumed they were bound to take my advice and anyone who did otherwise was in rebellion against their pastor.
I still give advice when sought but, unless biblical teachings, ethics, or morals are being violated, I now understand that if someone does not heed my counsel they are not necessarily in the wrong. It is not a sin to not take my advice, something my wife has understood for over 40 years.
In those younger days, I also had strong opinions about such things as holidays. Even though my parents allowed me to believe in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, and encouraged me to participate in Halloween’s trick or treat activities, when I became a father I did not allow my children to do so.
Yep, no Santa Claus, no Easter Bunny, no Tooth Fairy, and no trick or treating for my kids for much of their young lives. Why? Because in my religious circles, a goodly number of people believed that such things were wrong, even to the point of sin.
Yet, I, who had believed in Santa, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, and wore costumes on Oct. 31, wound up being a Christian pastor. In retrospect it seems that parental permission to engage in fantasy did not, as some proclaimed, woo me over to the Dark Side. Nevertheless, I was firm on the matter. Fantasy would have no place in my house.
When my children grew up and had kids of their own, they rejected the path down which I led them and re-introduced (or at least allowed) traditional beliefs and practices in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, and Halloween participation. It doesn’t seem to have warped the grandkids.
Perhaps it is beneficial to take a lesson from St. Patrick of Ireland. St. Patrick, who was English, was sent by the Pope as a missionary bishop to pagan Ireland. As a youth, Patrick had been kidnapped by Irish raiders and had spent several years in slavery prior to his escape to England. Now somewhere around 50 years of age, here he was going back to evangelize the nation of his captivity.
When a community became Christianized as a result of Patrick’s ministry, he did not destroy the wells and orchards that had been dedicated to the pagan gods, as was the custom of some. Patrick, believing that if pagan people could be baptized, then the places of pagan worship and some of the locations set aside for pagan deities could be “baptized” as well— with prayers and holy water. In fact, most of the churches built by Patrick stand on the very location of pagan worship sites.
I understand that some holiday rites and practices have their origin in the paganism of the past. Yet, most of the children of the modern era know nothing of that origin. Therefore, many — perhaps most — churches have Christmas trees, Halloween events (re-named or “baptized” as Fall Festivals, All Hallow’s Eve parties, Hallelujah Night, and the like), conduct Easter egg hunts, and are not so concerned if the Tooth Fairy leaves a cash settlement under a child’s pillow.
I am still a theological conservative and an evangelical but I am not so bound up in the need to see everything that is not brilliantly white as totally black. I do, however, more than ever believe in the power of God to baptize and transform — whether it be people or holidays. And I am much easier to live with.
[David Epps is the pastor of the Cathedral of Christ the King, 4881 Hwy. 34 E., Sharpsburg, GA 30277. Services are held Sundays at 8:30 and 10 a.m. (www.ctkcec.org). He is the bishop of the Mid-South Diocese (www.midsouthdiocese.org) and is the mission pastor of Christ the King Fellowship in Champaign, IL. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.]