In Scotland there was an ancient autumn tradition in which girls used cabbage stumps to predict information about their future spouse. It was a fortune-telling game. Apparently, this found its way to Massachusetts and, according to the historical society in Framingham, teens there in the 19th century would skip the fortune-telling part and simply go around throwing cabbages at people and buildings. This degenerated into vegetables of all sorts being hurled about in the night with rotten tomatoes being a favorite.
Some would say that Halloween brings out the worst in people. It can, to be sure, but I disagree. I think it is a fun holiday all around—especially for little kids. That said, it seems that even they are vulnerable to less-than-nice behavior on this holiday. A study found that unsupervised costumed children in groups were far more likely to steal candy and money than both non-costumed kids and children not in a group. Another similar study found that masked children were significantly more likely to take more Halloween candy than they were supposed to if they believed there was no adult supervision as opposed to children not wearing a mask.
In other words, if we think people don’t know who we are, we are more likely to be dishonest. I suspect this isn’t just isolated to children and it’s sad. As someone has said, “Character is how you act when you think no one is looking”. Or in this case, wearing a mask.
The thing is, masks come in all forms; some of which are not worn as a literal disguise. We often wear “masks” in order to be accepted by peers or meet the expectations of others. The way we act, the things we say, the company we keep can easily divert people from our true selves. And not just other people. If we keep it up long enough, we can forget who we really are ourselves and begin to believe that we are the masks that we wear.
To me, this is one reason why church is so important. Church is a place where we leave our masks at the door and come as our authentic selves into the sanctuary of God. God, of course, already knows who we really are so the act of doing this is more for ourselves than for God. It allows us to rediscover who we really are.
This rediscovery may not always be an easy thing. If we are honest, open and vulnerable before God we may see things about ourselves that we’d rather not look at and we long to put our masks back on. But if we resist that temptation, we will discover that even in the poorly lit corners of our least-liked-selves there is light. And that light comes from God. It is a light of forgiveness, transformation, redemption and love.
So watch out for flying cabbages on the 31 st (especially, apparently, if you are in Framingham)! More importantly, use Halloween to peel back the layers of your projected identity to rediscover the you that God cherishes most.