Is Halloween an evil holiday?

Nope! The word itself means “All Hallows’ Eve” (“hallow” is an old-fashioned word for holy) because it’s the night before the feast of All Saints. There’s a lot of research that’s been done on the origin of this holiday but I’ll save you the long version and just tell you: it was always our holiday.

Every year, a debate rages among Catholics and other Christians:  Is Halloween a satanic holiday or merely a secular one?  Should Catholic children dress up like ghosts and goblins?  Is it good for children to be scared?  Lost in the debate is the history of Halloween, which, far from being a pagan religious event, is actually a Christian celebration that's almost 1,300 years old.

The long history of this holiday is all over the board with which country and group of people were claiming it as their own.  Even in the U.S. (a long time ago) there were some puritan Wiccans who claimed Halloween as theirs. And then Hollywood reinforced the whole demonic idea with a couple scary movies, and then bada-bing, bada-boom, Christians were scared that participating in Halloween festivities was bad for your soul.  Which I can understand because there is a lot of emphasis on death and gore and scary things. All those skeletons!

You know the one place where I saw more skeletons than suburbia on Halloween? A Carthusian monastery.  The monks use the skulls to adorn their walls, ceilings, door frames, etc.  They even used to greet each other with the phrase, “brother, remember your death.” These skulls aren’t morbid.  They’re symbolic of those who have gone before us (all souls) and the destiny of our own bodies.  It’s a reminder our bodies don’t last so we should work to discipline not comfort them.

And let’s not forget what we hear in church on Ash Wednesday: “Remember you are dust and unto dust you shall return.” A.k.a. = death is coming.

These are good and necessary reminders that our current physical life is temporary.  You don’t remember that you’re living for eternity if you avoid an acceptance of death and its symbols.  If we avoid Halloween, we miss out on this rich, Catholic, symbolism of our death.  It’s not an evil holiday, it’s a Christian one.  Someone please tell Party City.

“So is it okay for Catholics to celebrate Halloween?”

Sure! There’s nothing wrong with putting on a costume, trick-or-treating, and enjoying the company of your friends and family.  Of course, some misled people take the holiday too far and make it more satanic than it should be.  However, that’s not a reason for the rest of us Christians to be scared away.

When we decide to be afraid of the devil we give our power over to him.  What message does it send the world if we, as Christians, are afraid to admit to the reality of evil?  It sends the message that we’re not sure who wins this battle of good vs. evil.

But we are! We KNOW that God wins… that love triumphs over death, and that evil has no hold on us.  Partaking in this holiday does not mean you’re opening yourself up to evil.  I think that on the contrary, it means you’re claiming as your own the victory of Christ on the cross.  How much more Christian can you get?

The Christian Origins of Halloween

"Halloween" is a name that means nothing by itself.

It is a contraction of "All Hallows Eve," and it designates the vigil of All Hallows Day, more commonly known today as All Saints Day.  ("Hallow," as a noun, is an old English word for saint. As a verb, it means to make something holy or to honor it as holy.)  All Saints Day, November 1, is a Holy Day of Obligation, and both the feast and the vigil have been celebrated since the early eighth century, when they were instituted by Pope Gregory III in Rome.    (A century later, they were extended to the Church at large by Pope Gregory IV.)

The Pagan Origins of Halloween

Despite concerns among some Catholics and other Christians in recent years about the "pagan origins" of Halloween, there really is none.

The first attempts to show some connection between the vigil of All Saints and the Celtic harvest festival of Samhain came over a thousand years after All Saints Day became a universal feast, and there's no evidence whatsoever that Gregory III or Gregory IV was even aware of Samhain.

In Celtic peasant culture, however, elements of the harvest festival survived, even among Christians, just as the Christmas tree owes its origins to pre-Christian Germanic traditions without being a pagan ritual.

The Commercialization of Halloween

Continued opposition to Halloween was largely an expression of anti-Catholicism (as well as anti-Irish prejudice). But by the early 20th century, Halloween, like Christmas, was becoming highly commercialized. Pre-made costumes, decorations, and special candy all became widely available, and the Christian origins of the holiday were downplayed.

The rise of horror films, and especially the slasher films of the late 70's and 80's, contributed to Halloween's bad reputation, as did the claims of putative Satanists and Wiccans, who created a mythology in which Halloween had been their festival, co-opted later by Christians

Combining the Celtic and the ChristiaImage result for catholic halloween

The Celtic elements included lighting bonfires, carving turnips (and, in America, pumpkins), and going from house to house, collecting treats, as carolers do at Christmas. But the "occult" aspects of Halloween—ghosts and demons—actually have their roots in Catholic belief. Christians believed that, at certain times of the year (Christmas is another), the veil separating earth from Purgatory, Heaven, and even Hell becomes more thin, and the souls in Purgatory (ghosts) and demons can be more readily seen. Thus the tradition of Halloween costumes owes as much, if not more, to Christian belief as to Celtic tradition.

The (First) Anti-Catholic Attack on Halloween

The current attacks on Halloween aren't the first. In post-Reformation England, All Saints Day and its vigil were suppressed, and the Celtic peasant customs associated with Halloween were outlawed. Christmas and the traditions surrounding it were similarly attacked, and the Puritan Parliament banned Christmas outright in 1647. In the Northeastern United States, Puritans outlawed the celebration of both Christmas and Halloween, which were revived largely by German Catholic (in the case of Christmas) and Irish Catholic (in the case of Halloween) immigrants in the 19th century.

The (Second) Anti-Catholic Attack on Halloween

A new backlash against Halloween by non-Catholic Christians began in the 1980's, in part because of claims that Halloween was the "Devil's Night"; in part because of urban legends about poisons and razor blades in Halloween candy; and in part because of an explicit opposition to Catholicism. Jack Chick, a rabidly anti-Catholic fundamentalist who distributes Bible tracts in the form of small comic books, helped lead the charge. (For more on Chick's rabid anti-Catholicism and how it led to his attack on Halloween, see Halloween, Jack Chick, and Anti-Catholicism.)

By the late 1990's, many Catholic parents, unaware of the anti-Catholic origins of the attack on Halloween, had begun to question Halloween as well. Their concerns were elevated when, in 2009, an article from a British tabloid sparked an urban legend that Pope Benedict XVI had warned Catholics against celebrating Halloween. Even though there was no truth to the claim (see Did Pope Benedict XVI Condemn Halloween? for details), alternative celebrations became popular and remain so to this day

Alternatives to Halloween Activities

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. (It would, for instance, be more appropriate to tie a celebration of the harvest to the fall Ember Days.)

Another popular Catholic alternative is an All Saints Party, usually held on Halloween and featuring costumes (of saints rather than ghouls) and candy. At best, though, this is an attempt to Christianize an already Christian holiday.

Safety Concerns and the Fear Factor

Parents are in the best position to decide whether their children can participate safely in Halloween activities, and, in today's world, it's understandable that many choose to err on the side of caution. Scattered stories of poisoned apples and tampering with candy, which arose during the mid-1980's, left a residue of fear, even though they had been thoroughly debunked by 2002. One concern that's often over blown, however, is the effect that fright might have on children. Some children, of course, are very sensitive, but most love scaring others and being scared themselves (within limits, of course). Any parent knows that the "Boo!" is usually followed by laughter, not only from the child doing the scaring, but from the one being scared. Halloween provides a structured environment for fear.

Making Your Decision

In the end, the choice is yours to make as a parent. If you choose, as my wife and I do, to let your children participate in Halloween, simply stress the need for physical safety (including checking over their candy when they return home), and explain the Christian origins of Halloween to your children. Before you send them off trick-or-treating, recite together the Prayer to Saint Michael the Archangel, and explain that, as Catholics, we believe in the reality of evil. Tie the vigil explicitly to the Feast of All Saints, and explain to your children why we celebrate that feast, so that they won't view All Saints Day as "the boring day when we have to go to church before we can eat some more candy."

“How can I not wear a “sexy” costume when all of my friends are?”

Don’t wear a sexy costume. It’s that simple. You stand out. Be different. You accept the challenge to be more creative. You show up as a POPTART in a room full of mini-skirted pirates, nurses, and dudes who wear more clothing to the beach.

Is choosing virtue (like modesty) ever going to be easy this side of heaven? No. Are Christians called to follow the crowd? No. See Romans 12:2.

True friends won’t judge you or be offended by your choice in costume. Just because you decide to wear an appropriate costume, that doesn’t mean you’re judging those around you.

And to be totally honest, most people of the opposite sex will appreciate it because they can have fun around you without worrying about where their eyes wander too. Plus, having a debate about the best flavor of poptart (cookie dough, duh) is way better than being objectified.

“How much candy can I eat Halloween night?”

Enough to treat yourself, but not so much that your body tricks you into sleeping in and missing Mass the next day.  November 1st is usually a Holy Day of Obligation (except if it falls on a Saturday) so get to Church and give praise to the God who saved you from death and stretched out His arms on the cross to hold evil at bay.

Let's reclaim Halloween for Christians, by returning to its roots in the Catholic Church!
 

Daily Meditation by(c) 2013 Don Schwager
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