Reclaiming the ‘Spirit’ of Halloween
Is Halloween an evil holiday? Is it secretly pagan? Is Halloween too dangerous for children to celebrate? These are all questions that, sadly enough, many parents ask themselves every year. When I was a kid (way, way back in the 1980s), I can remember trick or treating with my older sister (when I was very young) and then when I was older, with a group of friends. We trick or treated at dusk, or when it was dark, and then afterwards we joined our parents for a Halloween party at a neighbor’s house. Nearly every home was decorated in some way for the holiday.
Years later, when I was in college, I joined my then girlfriend for Halloween at her parent’s house in a small town in central Illinois. I couldn’t believe what I saw. Parents actually drove their kids from house to house and walked them to each door (the few that came). The idea seemed to be “hurry up and get away” from your neighbors as fast as possible. As we drove through town, we saw very few homes decorated for the holiday. Where was the sense of community I had experiences as a child? As I’ve gotten older, particularly in the last several years, Halloween seems to have turned into just another excuse for twenty-somethings to dress in “sexy” costumes and get drunk. What happened to my favorite holiday?
Scott Richert, editor of Chronicles Magazine and the About.com Catholicism expert, has written a series of enlightening articles about Catholicism and Halloween, why Christians should celebrate the holiday, and where a lot of misconceptions about Halloween come from. These articles will be interesting to secular-minded readers as well. I’ll summarize them below, but you can read all three at these links: “Halloween, Jack Chick, and Anti-Catholicism,” “Why the Devil Hates Halloween,” and “Should Catholics Celebrate Halloween?”
Halloween, Jack Chick, and Anti-Catholicism explores the origins of modern misconceptions about Halloween. His description of Halloween in the 1970s really struck a chord with me, since it closely paralleled my own experience a decade later. In 1980, a fundamentalist named Jack Chick began publishing anti-Catholic tracts. I remember seeing a few of those little comics when I was a kid. In 1986, Chick published a tract explicitly attacking Halloween (All Hallows Eve) and All Saints Day, and linked the holiday to pagan traditions of the Druids (when in fact Druidism has ceased to be practiced 400 years prior to the creation of All Hallows Eve and All Saints Day). He also claimed that Halloween was Satan’s birthday, a belief that continues in some circles. Richert concluded that Jack Chick and his pamphlets have successfully damaged the reputation of Halloween to the point where fewer parents are celebrating it with their children.
In Why the Devil Hates Halloween, Richert convincingly argues that, contrary to popular opinion, Halloween is not a holiday the Devil would celebrate because it is (ideally) a holiday that brings the community together and promotes values like generosity, gratitude, and loving your neighbor. He concludes, “The Devil hates that we celebrate the vigil of All Saints Day by living out some of the virtues of those saints, here and now, among family and friends. He knows that his job will be a lot harder if we keep acting that way. That’s why he can’t wait for the trick or treating to end, for the porch lights to go off and the TVs to turn back on, for the doors to close and the laughter to cease, for the fear and the despair of modern life to replace the joy of this night.”
Richert answers his question Should Catholics Celebrate Halloween? with a resounding, “Yes!” Halloween is a contraction of “All Hallows Eve,” and it designates the vigil of All Hallows Day, more commonly known today as All Saints Day, when Catholics venerate the Saints and all the souls in Heaven. As in other Christian holidays, of course, vestiges of folk traditions remained and were incorporated into the holiday. Like Christmas, Halloween was first attacked in Puritan England. The Puritans sought to drive out all traces of Catholicism and condemned it as pagan. As for Christian “alternatives” to Halloween, Richert argues, “Ironically, one of the most popular Christian alternatives to celebrating Halloween is a secular “Harvest Festival,” which has more in common with the Celtic Samhain than it does with the Catholic All Saints Day. There’s nothing wrong with celebrating the harvest, but there’s no need to strip such a celebration of connections with the Christian liturgical calendar.”
All three of these articles are excellent sources of information for parents to combat the barrage of fear mongering and misinformation surrounding what is (in my humble opinion) one of the best holidays of the year. Halloween should be celebrated by young and old alike–bringing us together in celebration of those who have died and the community in which we still live.