As Juneau youngsters prepare to be scared out of their wits this Friday, some area churches are planning alternatives to Halloween activities so their parishioners can have fun without celebrating the holiday.
Many Christian faiths discourage Halloween celebrations on the premise the holiday is rooted in ancient paganism and has evil connotations.
Todd Buck, assistant pastor at Glacier Valley Baptist Church, said the church has held a fall festival for kids for years.
"We do it as a ministry to the kids here that are part of the church, and our desire is just to provide an alternative that is not as evil-focused, not as scary, as what is more common," Buck said. "Giving kids candy is not evil, and we're in support of kids having fun."
Children dress up and are encouraged to don non-violent, non-scary costumes. The festival includes games, prizes, candy and a chili cook-off. Buck said the church wants to provide children with a fun activity so that they don't feel as though they are missing out on Halloween events.
"Typically, some of the costumes and some of the acts that are associated with Halloween in today's world are not activities that would honor Christ," Buck said.
Halloween is said to date back to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, which marked the end of the harvest and the beginning of winter. On Samhain, the boundary between the living world and the domain of the dead became thin, and ghosts returned to Earth. The tradition of dressing up in costumes came from a Samhain-associated custom of wearing masks to avoid recognition by ghosts. Bowls of food were commonly left outside houses to appease angry spirits and prevent them from entering.
In the seventh century, Pope Boniface IV designated Nov. 1 All Saints' Day. Many believe that the pope was attempting to replace the Celtic festival with a church-sanctioned holiday. Later, Nov. 2 became All Souls' Day. On All Souls' Day in England, people would distribute pastries known as "soul cakes" to beggars in return for their promise to pray for their dead relatives.
Jack-o-lanterns come from Ireland, where carved turnips and other vegetables were placed in windows to frighten away evil spirits.
Other churches in Juneau are also offering alternative celebrations for children and families.
Chapel by the Lake is holding a harvest carnival Friday evening, said organizer Lara Martin.
"There's going to be all types of carnival games like the duckie pond and bean bag tosses, and there's going to be pumpkin carving and costume contests and the cupcake walk and lots of food," Martin said.
Martin said the idea is to let children participate in the fun parts of the holiday without any of the scary aspects.
Tracee Hackel, associate pastor of Chapel by the Lake, said many kids who attend the carnival also go trick or treating or participate in other Halloween activities, but the church's event provides something that doesn't emphasize evil.
"It's to diminish the emphasis on scary or anything that might have to do with the occult and Satan, and try to redirect it," Hackel said.
The Salvation Army is holding a "harvest hoopla" party Friday evening at its downtown headquarters.
"It's good, clean, positive fun," said Major Nila Fankhauser. "We try to stay away from the spooky stuff."
Masha Herbst can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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