halloweenHow should we as Catholics and Christians respond to Halloween? In recent decades there seems to have been the emergence of two camps. One sees Halloween is generally harmless fun. The other sees Halloween as a dangerous dalliance with the occult, the demonic and evil. While it is true that there are some excesses evident in current Halloween celebrations, I would largely find myself in the “harmless fun” category especially if we allow Halloween to be a Teachable moment from the Christian perspective.

Part of the reason that I see it as harmless fun is rooted in my experience. Back when I was a kid in the 1960s and early 1970s we would often dress in ghoulish costumes and attempt to look as frightening as possible. One year I went about as a skeleton. My grandfather, who was a doctor had an plastic skeleton of a hand that was very realistic. I would hold it in my hand and pull my shirt over my real hand. It was so real looking that people often wondered if my hand was horribly injured for real. Another year I was a zombie. Another year a ruthless pirate. There were a few years where I dressed more mildly as an astronaut and a Navy officer. But it was all good fun. Even in the ghoulish years it never occurred to me that the “dark side” was attractive or that devil worship was in my future.

In a way, what was more evident to me was that we were mocking evil, death and the occult. All this dressing up stuff was not in admiration of bad stuff it was about being goofy and making all the devilish stuff seem silly.

There are surely some concerns today about Halloween. One is that it has gone too far. Some adult costumes at adult parties in Georgetown and other places are downright immoral. Let’s be clear that this is wrong and is excluded from the more benign posture I am suggesting here. It is also true that there are some who take all this evil stuff seriously. There probably is a rise in Satanism today but I can guarantee there is a lot more than Halloween at work there. But for the vast majority of kids and young people  I think it is still safe to conclude that Halloween is just good fun like it always has been.

As Christians we might help by putting a bit of perspective on the day. It is a sort of teaching moment for us all. Here are a few teaching moments we might ponder.

  1. The word “Halloween” is derived from Catholic tradition. All Saints Day which occurs the next day (Nov 1) was called in older English “All Hallows Day” The evening before was called the “een of All Hallows.” It was eventually shortened to Halloween. The Church put the feast of All Saints in place to answer a pagan custom that feared that the dead walked the earth on the last day of October. The Church’s answer was that the dead were not all ghouls and zombies. Among the dead were also the saints who were glorious and holy. And although the scary traditions continued the Church largely succeeded in pushing back the fears about the dead. Now the celebrations on All Hallows Eve were more about fun than fear.
  2. Scripturally we might highlight a couple of texts that point to our truest attitudes  about death and demonic realities. As regards death, we ought not fear it for Scripture says, Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Cor 15:54-56). So, in a certain sense we mock death and dismiss its power to trouble us.  The graveyards, corpses, blood, skeletons, and coffins of Halloween allow us, on a yearly basis, to confront our mortality  and confront our often repressed fear of death and Christ victory actually gives us a basis to do this.
  3. Regarding the evil spirits and demons another scripture comes to mind,  And having disarmed the powers and principalities [of evil], Christ made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross. (Col 2:15) And so again it is possible for us to see all the Halloween display of the evil and demonic not as a celebration but a mockery. Like Christ and because of his triumph  we can make a spectacle of them. And here too we confront some of our natural fears about evil and things related to it: monsters, bats, owls, ghosts and goblins. The world can be a scary place, strange and mysterious place, and we tend to fill its dark corners with “monsters.” Halloween, allows us (especially children) to roam a night filled with frightening things but in fact  to find only friends and neighbors and candy! Again, vague fears are collectively confronted and processed and we can additionally find courage in the fact that Christ has conquered.

I know what I have said may be controversial to some of you. But I might humbly suggest that trying to suppress a strong cultural tradition by “demonizing it” (pardon the pun) usually backfires and only makes it more appealing to those who love to tweak us with their extremes. Maybe a better strategy is to emphasize a more benign and scriptural interpretation and to claim what is truly ours as Christians on the strange little night we call Halloween.

 

20 Responses

  1. Alan says:

    I think the idea of kids getting candy is a rather recent innovation that has been gaining global appeal. I will take my son trick or treating, but I have to say, it does give me pause. It should be noted that this is also the unholy week for satanists, who perform kidnappings/sacrifices for their black mass. Yes, they do exist.

  2. Bender says:

    I confess that I do not understand those that get all up in arms in opposition to Halloween or to the themes related to Halloween. I once found myself in a big argument over my suggestion that the movie “Matilda” was a fun and good movie for kids, and someone objected that it was satanic because the girl in it has telekinetic power.

    That said, there is a bit of a danger in Halloween being all dress-up and fun. The world already has enough trouble believing in the existence of evil spirits and of seeing the real monsters that walk amongst us today. Halloween kind of feeds that belief, leading some to see Satan as merely some cartoonish figure.

    “The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist”
    – Verbal Kint, a/k/a Keyser Soze

  3. Nick says:

    As fun as Halloween is, it is the secularization of a Christian holy day. As fun as waiting for Santa and making Easter eggs is, they are the secularization of Christians. We cannot be secular, we must be Christian. What has happened to eight days of Christmas and Easter? What has happened to vigils on All Hallows Eve? Why can’t we show the world we are brothers and partners and co-heirs? Why can’t we say “No!” to secularization; we cannot serve two masters. There is fun to be had in costumes, pumpkin carvings, and tricks and treats, just as there is fun in presents, Christmas trees, and eight tiny reindeer; one is more secular than the other, yet they are both secular: We must take back the sacredness of the Sabbath – which is the primary holy day – and not let the world strip it of God.

    • Nick says:

      Saint Basil says it better: “Remember days of calm, nights lighted up, spiritual songs, sweet music of psalms, saintly prayers, a bed pure and undefiled, procession of virgins, and moderate fare. What has become of your grave appearance, your gracious demeanour, your plain dress, meet for a virgin, the beautiful blush of modesty, the comely and bright pallor due to temperance and vigils, shining fairer than any brilliance of complexion?” (Letter to a Fallen Virgin (Letter 46))

    • Vijaya says:

      Well said.

  4. Ann Schneider says:

    Thank you! Halloween, like so many other instances of behavior–good and bad, can be and should indeed be used as a teaching moment. Whoever else may claim Halloween, we can claim what’s good. I my view, whether it is a recent practice or ancient, children going door-to-door to enjoy the generosity of their neighbors cannot be bad.

  5. Annie says:

    Fr. Augustine Thompson, O.P. wrote a great article on the origins of Halloween that was printed in CAtholic Parent magazine a few years ago. My parish reprinted it in the bulletin this week. It makes fascinating reading because it shows how all the “ancient pagan celebration” myth really isn’t true.

  6. Tom says:

    If you’re looking for an All Saints Vigil, you’ll have to get to the Dominican House of Studies long before the 7:30 p.m. start time to get a seat.

  7. Vijaya says:

    We always have one pumpkin carved with a cross. But we also carve a fierce cat and a ghoul or two as well. I didn’t grow up with a Halloween tradition but my husband did and our children were introduced to the secular before we learned about the Holy. So we try to balance the two. How I wish I had a St. Michael statue in my front yard. I enjoyed the video showing the history of this holiday.

    By the way, my son will be missing football practice to go to Mass. Why in a Catholic school they schedule football practice on Nov. 1st is beyond me.

  8. JJ says:

    When my son was growing up we always had Halloween activities at the church. But there was a rule back then that you could not dress up in devil and witch costumes. It was fun and the children loved it. In those days I was always afraid of outsiders giving my son candy and fruit. There are a lot of crazy folks out there. With that said I think its ok to have fun on Halloween just educate your children on the full story.

  9. Cynthia BC says:

    “The best way to drive out the devil, if he will not yield to texts of Scripture, is to jeer and flout him, for he cannot bear scorn.”

    - Martin Luther

    • Nick says:

      Yet the archangel Michael, when he argued with the devil in a dispute over the body of Moses, did not venture to pronounce a reviling judgment upon him but said, “May the Lord rebuke you!” – Jude 9

      The Apostle is here comparing an angel not reviling the devil and evil men reviling angels, but I thought it would be a suitable response, since the devil hates humility.

  10. Vijaya says:

    I am curious what the Church says about those who are cremated and the ashes scattered … that is what my mother had wanted and so that is what we did all those many years ago. So we have no grave to visit. And now I am sorry. I just have stories. Memories.

  11. rebecca says:

    Hello Msgr.
    Personally, I think Halloween is a scared time, I pray for my loved ones who have passed as All Souls Day nears and remember my mother on All Saints Day.
    Her Birthday is November 2nd but she told us her Birthday was November 1st because she did not want her birthday on the “devil’s day”, All Souls Day….
    All Souls day is a beautiful day to remember and pray for the souls of family, friends, and those who have no one to pray for them.
    Halloween is the beginning of a scared time for me. Memories of trick or treating are good memories.
    I havent read the responses yet but I do hope some of the posts include the beauty of this time.

  12. Pam says:

    We have always celebrated the fun side of Halloween — costumes and candy. Since entering the church a couple of years ago I researched and found many opinions akin to yours. So we have made an effort to make the celebration of the feast of All Saints and All Souls all a part of this time of year — now Halloween is simply a part of those times, not the entirety of what happens. Then today I came across this: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/religion/6467253/Vatican-condemns-Halloween-as-anti-Christian.html How does this change things?

  13. Pam says:

    Apparently, never mind.

    http://catholickey.blogspot.com/2009/10/pope-condemns-halloween-hoax.html

    I wonder if a reliable news source exists anymore.

    • Cynthia BC says:

      Even a reliable news source can sometimes get it wrong. One thus should never rely on a sole source of information. One also should take note of who owns what media outlets.

      • Pam says:

        In this case, though, it was a number of new sources — the story was carried widely by mainstream and Catholic news services each with differing ownership. For those of us who do get our news from multiple sources the message was the same across the board initially.

  14. Michael says:

    Instead of handing candy out on Halloween hand out holy cards of the saints just to teach the kids the real meaning of Halloween.

  15. Adrienne says:

    Interesting note about the celebration of Halloween –

    The public schools in Montgomery County, Maryland do not recognize Christmas or Easter in the classroom (I guess in an unfortunate effort not to offend non-Christians), but the schools do celebrate Halloween (eve of All Saints Day) and Valentine’s Day (memorial of St. Valentine).

    So, in an effort to be secular, the schools still celebrate two Catholic traditions. Go Holy Spirit!

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