Jack: Sally! I need your help most of all.
Sally: You certainly do, Jack. I've had the most horrible vision!
Jack: That's splendid! 
"Christmas Town? Hmmm..." 
I love Halloween. I always have. It isn't because of the candy either. It's because I love dressing up and playing at being someone or something else for a night. It can be fun to run through the streets and pretend to be a vampire or werewolf, maybe a Ninja Turtle or a pirate, or anything else ever dreamed up by the human imagination. It never really mattered what the origins of the holiday were when I was a child, and even today I still don't really care that much because it's always just been a cultural holiday for me. It was only after accepting that I am an atheist that these holiday celebrations and their origins became an issue I had to consider. You see, these holidays have become battlegrounds here in the U.S. between an ever increasing secular culture and Christian conservative talking heads like Bill O'Reilly or Christian " leaders" such as Ray Comfort.
There really seems to be an overriding disconnect with people like O'Reilly about who is waging war on whom here. In point of fact, this disconnect runs so deeply through the heart of the Christian tradition that it's almost a foundational premise. You see, these Christians put forward the idea that they're doing good as they hijack every other culture they come in contact with. If you think I'm blowing that a bit out of proportion, just listen to one Keith Fournier who is a deacon at the Diocese of Richmond, Virginia as well as editor and chief at Catholic Online had to say on the matter a few years ago:
"Many of the dates which were "Christianized" and now host Christian Holy-Days were originally utilized for Pre-Christian (Pagan) celebrations. This process reflects the wisdom of the Church and a missionary approach. She has baptized them, recognizing the seeds of what was good within them. By immersing them in the beauty of the proclamation of Jesus Christ, the fullness of truth and the source of all goodness, she transforms them into vehicles for transforming culture. The Church is His Body. She is meant to be the home of the whole human race. As the early fathers were fond of proclaiming, the Church is the world reconciled - the world in the process of transfiguration. We who live our lives in the Church do so for the sake of the world. We should not be afraid of human culture; we are called to continue the redemptive mission of our Lord by transforming it from within as leaven in a loaf." 
"EUREKA! This year, Christmas will be OURS!" 
Now, you may be thinking that this is just one clergyman at one diocese but you'd be dead wrong in that assumption. The fact is, this idea of the "missionary position" is what has made the Catholic church, and indeed all of Christianity, the beast it is today. And what we see in this sort of culture absorption is the subtle and smiling side of the same sinister and insidious beast that brought about the Inquisitions and Christian Crusades. It is nothing more than the smiling face side of a very dark and troubling coin.
The early Christian churches had struggled to gain much traction in being accepted in the Roman world up until emperor Constantine I legalized the open participation in the cult of Christ. Of course no emperor did for Christianity what emperor Theodosius I did when he recognized Christianity as the state religion of Rome in 380 CE. But not everyone was quick to jump on the Christian bandwagon and rather than just kill much of the populace who still followed "pagan" traditions, the early church instead blended many of those traditions into the cult of Christ. The feast of Saturnalia is a prime example of this as the Christians of the early church accepted the same festival traditions being blended into what is now called Christmas for so many Christians today.
Ask a Christian why there is an Easter Bunny or where the tradition of painting easter eggs comes from, and most don't have a clue. As far as they're concerned Easter is a Christian holiday celebrating the supposed resurrection of Jesus. To borrow a line from Al Gore, this inconvenient truth that almost all holiday traditions celebrated by modern Christians were hijacked by the subtle terrorist activities of early Christianity, as it went on a spree of cultural absorption and annihilation, has become a topic of heated debate between the atheist community and Christian con servatives. They really just won't be content until they've managed to rewrite history.
"My bugs! My bugs!" 
It's kind of hard for me to really know if Christianity is like that good-natured fool Jack Skelington, who really thinks he can do things better than everyone else, or whether it's more like Oogie Boogie. Maybe it's really a sackcloth that doesn't look that harmless but when you pull a loose thread the sack falls open and bugs crawl out. I suppose I'll let you make your own call on that one. One thing is sure however, Christianity is most certainly a culture thief. Even Judaism just hijacked the myths of the Sumerians and Babylonians. It's kind of in their DNA, so to speak.
For myself, and most of the secular world, these holy days are merely days we're almost guaranteed to be off work and have a chance to celebrate with family and even our society as a whole to interact with each other. We celebrate nothing more than being human and the human experience. We understand that these celebrations were constructed from the imaginations of our ancestors and there's nothing wrong with that. Holidays like Halloween celebrate the human imagination and capacity for wonder more than any others. We should not want to diminish that by trying to rewrite history to suit the notions of those who actually believe demons are a real thing in this day and age.
I for one truly love the idea that one day a year it's absolutely acceptable to play at the fantastic and imaginary; to dress up and pretend to be something totally outside of reality. And I respect that this was born of the human experience and is wholly unique to it.
Be safe this Halloween friends, and don't forget to brush those chompers after all that candy.
Photo Credits: Rob Rudloff