Faith Fridays: The Great Halloween Debate
Throughout this week leading up to the holiday known for its tricks and treats, I’ve found a plethora of bloggers weighing in on The Great Halloween Debate. I’d been planning on posting on the subject anyway, so now I have even more to add to my own thoughts. But first, a little of my personal history with the holi-day (holy day).
Growing up on the Fort Peck Reservation in Northeast Montana, Halloween was a huge deal. My mother, an elementary teacher, would keep track of the numbers of trick-or-treaters who would come to our house to collect their treats. Sometimes my dad would be hiding in the shadows and would give a good “Raaaaaarh!” and scare the little kiddos (poor things — the older ones loved it but the younger ones ran away). The numbers often ranged in the 300s. She would be exhausted by the end of the night from candy-passing, which she did from a chair in later years to help with back strain. This was a big night for us kids on the rez, and most of my memories of it are relatively tame and fun-filled.
It wasn’t until college when I was preparing to go to a Halloween gathering with a friend that I learned my fairly benign view of Halloween wasn’t necessarily the way everyone looked at it. While I gingerly separated the whiskers on my cat costume, a Christian friend poked his head into my dorm room and asked what I was doing and why. Why, he wondered, would I want to take part in an evil activity by celebrating Halloween? This was the first time I’d heard of such a thing. I could only wonder where I’d been my whole life to have been shielded from this “truth” of which he spoke so matter-of-factly.
But as I let his words turn round in my head, and as my view of the world expanded further in later years, I came to understand the reluctance of some to embrace Halloween. For some, it has become a celebration of death and evil. If it is primarily this, then I don’t want to have anything to do with it, either. However, I also feel that far too often, in our attempts to bring balance to a certain concept or situation, we go too far, and in the end, we allow others to define what we should rightfully claim.
Blogger Taylor Marshall had some great thoughts about it, in my opinion, including this: “The whole point of ‘All Hallows’ is to remind us to be ‘hallowed’ or ‘sanctified’. Most of us won’t have our own particular feast day and so All Saints Day will be our feast day. It is the feast day for most of the Church’s saints, those who lived peaceably, followed Christ, loved their families, accomplished their duties in life and passed on to the next life. May their prayers be with us.”
I also liked these thoughts of his: “There are many Christians who have written off Halloween as some sort of diabolical black mass. It’s the vigil of a Christian holy day: All Hallows’ Eve or All Saints Eve. Has it been corrupted by our culture and consumer market? You bet. However, Christmas has also been derailed by the culture. Does that mean that we’re going hand over Christmas? No way! Same goes for Halloween. The Church does not surrender what rightfully belongs to her – she wins it back!”
I know not everyone will agree. Some still will contend Halloween focuses too much on the dark side. Tell that to my little boys, who have always considered Halloween their very favoritest of celebrations because they get to dress as someone different. Tell my daughters, who squealed with delight tonight when I mentioned it was time to carve pumpkins. Yes, we need to be vigilant about such things and people’s intentions about them, but is it possible to go overboard in our attempts to live holy, light-filled lives?
Personally, I love how our school views Halloween. This, to me, seems a very balanced perspective and one I can feel confident imparting to my children, who LOVE the good aspects of Halloween. This is taken directly from our school newsletter:
Over the years at (our school) we have stressed the Christian tradition of Halloween (a holiday that is truly a big event for young children). The early Christians took a pagan custom of dressing up on this day not to scare off evil spirits (as did the pagans who did not believe in God) but to say, “Death, you have no hold on us. We have the Great Gift of Jesus Christ who gives us life after Death.” An old name for All Saints’ Day was Hallowmas. (“Hallow” is another word for saint.) The eve of All Saints was called All Hallow’s Eve, which was shortened to Halloween.
Students will have the options of wearing their costumes on October 30…Thank you for planning costumes that can handle all the activities and work well in the classroom. (Please remember, no masks or scary items. Thanks!) We invite you to join us for a prayer service at 12:45 in the church.
Family Traditions: Keep Jack-O’Lanterns burning from October 31 to November 2…three nights of holy light. We decorate our homes with spooky images and tell stories of ghosts and goblins because, as Christians, we have the last laugh. In Christ, we have nothing to fear.
Trick or Treat is another name for hospitality. When we open our door, who will we greet? It may be Christ! Like trick or treaters at the end of the night, one day we will remove our masks and lay aside our soiled clothes. And we will see ourselves as we truly are, the children of God arrayed like the saints in bright glory. (Taken from Leaders Manual for Catholic Students)
A confession now: I often dread Halloween, mainly because it’s hard to come up with five appropriate and economical costumes every year. I am not a good seamstress (not even close) and don’t like a lot of the options out there, so it ends up being more of a pain in the neck at times than anything else. All the same, I have a lot of fun Halloween memories, and to me, October wouldn’t be the same without Halloween. Tonight, when the kids and I engaged in our annual pumpkin-carving session and watched their creations light up, it felt no different to me than when we decorate our tree at Christmas time. In my humble opinion, as long as the focus stays on Christ and in the light, Halloween, too, can be a positive, memory-making experience for families with young children, especially.
What about you? Do you think it’s possible for Halloween to be reclaimed by Christians? Or are we better off disassociating with it altogether? (Don’t worry about offending me. I always appreciate a healthy, respectful conversation.)