Monday, October 31, 2011

Reclaiming Halloween.

Halloween is upon us again.

As a child, my parents went thru various stages of shunning halloween. There were years we didn't go trick or treating because my mother was convinced that Halloween was pagan practice unfit for Christians. Then there was the discovery of the true feast of all Saints. Suddenly we wore costumes again and eventually even my mother caved to peer pressure and we were trick or treating again. I never gave all the philosophical dilemmas much thought until I had my own children.

In the end I decided I do let my children go trick-or -treating. Here is why.

In Catholic Tradition we always take what is good about pagan traditions and keep it because it fits in with some aspects of Christian theology and the bad stuff we pitch, like a fabulous cheese with a few moldy spots that can be cut off. True, some cultures have let their cheese rot so badly that the whole thing has to be tossed out but usually just like a good mom, Mother Church tries to see if there is something salvageable The bad stuff of paganism (child sacrifice, etc) is shunned and denounced. Its a pretty simple formula and its worked well for centuries.

So when I returned to my analysis of Halloween I realized that the Church has put together the feasts of All Souls and All Saints. Not separated them, mind you, put them together. They are also placed at a time of year when traditionally pagan cultures turned their thoughts to the shades and spirits that dwell beyond the pale.

There is something important, something necessary about acknowledging fear, and death. They are real and increasingly we live in a culture where death is hidden and ignored. Reminding ourselves on Halloween of death and decay and fear are important, because only then does the triumph of the saints make sense and Christ's victory over them hold weight.

Yes there is a line to be walked between mocking the devils' power, and celebrating ugliness and decay, but walk it me must. I think that dressing as saints, (often offered as an alternative to other costumes) is great and should be encouraged, but the point of the saints (whose feast day follows the morning after Halloween) is that they faced these fears and triumphed . The saints' victory means nothing if act as though all is sweetness and light in this world.

Lastly the feast of all Souls is the church's plea to feed the dead (spiritually of course with acts of prayer and penance) We the faithful need one another in a very real way. just as we depend on one another for material sustenance in this life we need to think of the poor and unfortunate souls still awaiting heaven who hunger spiritually. Reminding ourselves of death reminds us of those who have passed on and are still awaiting heaven.

So yes, I celebrate Halloween.

All that being said, here is what I don't like about the modern American Halloween: the chance to mass market thousands of cheap disposable costumes and shameless commercialism. Loading up kids with tons of fake sugar,especially the attitude that it is a chance to "get the stuff" drive me crazy. This is all similar to the much more shocking butchering of Christmas. Still, all the more reason to celebrate properly or is just casualty surrendered to the cause of secularization. And that is scary, indeed.


Laura said...

meh, there have been people trying to make a quick buck off of Spiritual traditions since the dawn of man. I don't think this is particularly American. I don't know if you have ever been to St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican, but there are tons of people selling all kinds of tacky Catholic schwag. Tacky? Maybe. Maybe not.
I try to see stuff from my kids' perspective and not my jaded Adult perspective... where it is exciting to get candy! And it is exciting to dress up in a costume. Kids don't care if it is a tacky store one or not. We embrace a lot of the Mexican traditions of Dia de los muertos and take this as a chance to laugh at death... because we are standing behind Christ!

j'aime o'gorman said...


Jill said...

fantastic post, Anna!