Considering Halloween

halloween image

This week on CAPC I’ve asked some of our staff writers to contribute their thoughts about Halloween — and by extension All Saints and All Souls Day. Many Catholic parents are torn about Halloween.  Should we participate? Is Halloween intrinsically evil? What’s with the ghosts and witches? Where does all this stuff come from?  All week I’ll be posting CAPC staff’s contributions and responses to these questions.

Personally, I have very mixed feelings about Halloween. I love the harvest atmosphere of many Halloween parties and events, but the whole sub-culture around Halloween seems to become increasingly dark each year.  A few years ago I want into a Halloween costume shop to get my daughter a Dorothy costume and I saw mechanical zombie babies with blood oozing from their eyes. Why? Not funny or interesting; just scary and disturbing.

Kim's dog in her Halloween costume

Kim’s dog in her Halloween costume

But my kids like to play make believe and there is something special about Halloween in my neighborhood. I don’t want my kids to miss out on that. So we trick or treat every year.  We even dress our dog up in a costume and take her trick or treating with us. There is nothing scary or disturbing about a Labradoodle in a bumble bee costume! (At least not to  humans . . . I’m not sure what Labradoodles think of this arrangement.)  This year my sister and her family are coming to stay overnight on Halloween and we’re all going trick-or-treating together. Cousins, candy, cocoa, and a sleepover all in one night!

As a few of our contributors will explain this week, Halloween has Catholic roots and even some of the scary stuff makes sense when you learn the history of the day. Did you know that ghosts first became associated with Halloween in Ireland because they believed that if somebody died one year and you held a grudge against him, then the next year he would appear to you on the night before All Saints: that’s right, All Hallows Eve or Halloween.  Skeletons and skulls give me the creeps and I assumed they were rooted in the occult, but guess what? Many Catholic countries like Mexico use symbols of death like skulls on All Souls Day to remind them of death and those who have died.

Maybe it’s me. Maybe I don’t want to think about the inevitability of death. I’m okay with cute pumpkins and bumble bee costumes because they don’t challenge my comfort zone. Perhaps I want to hold on to some illusion that I will always be okay. I don’t want ghosts, witches, or devils decorating my house because I don’t want to invite confusion in my children’s minds about these things, but I am beginning to see that I shouldn’t automatically raise a brow when a Christian lets her child child dress as a ghost or when they put skull candles on their dinner tables.

I’m considering these things and I’m looking forward to reading what our other moms have to say this week.  I think my observation about American culture around Halloween will still hold at the end of the week: why are Americans so obsessed with vampires, zombies, and the undead?  It’s one thing to recognize the inevitability of death on the Day of the Dead and another to idolize demons and evil creatures, to think they are even sexy. That’s just so messed up. I think on some level the young people who are caught up in these things know that there is something more beyond this life, that it is only one short chapter in a journey and a sliver of some greater truth. It’s  unfortunate they are not given the freedom to surrender to the whole truth and promise of salvation and God’s love. Now that’s really scary.

Comments

  1. Hi Kim! I need to read more about the history of Halloween and even All Saints and All Souls day-I have definitely not done any in depth reading or research and one of my children just asked about it, so I’m off to get some books.
    BUT-I have to say, I love Halloween! I loved it as a child too, and I was very much raised in the Catholic faith. Of course, things have changed since then, or maybe my mom really kept it simple. I never walked into a Halloween costume shop until recently-my mom made our costumes, or we came up with a costume from things around the house-a ghost, a witch, a ballerina, etc. We carved pumpkins, ate donuts, and went trick of treating and I LOVED it. I loved the scariness of ghosts and witches, and my best friend and I even arranged a little Haunted House for our siblings. The only witches and ghosts that I imagined back then were the ones from The Wizard of Oz and Casper the Friendly ghost, along with some cute illustrations I saw as a child-but all really really pretend, as I never for a moment thought that any of it was real or that anyone was fascinated by it. At my Catholic school, we really concentrated on All Saint’s Day.
    I think it’s important to not read so much into it-to see it through the eye’s of a child. We stay away from gore (although I have four boys, and I can’t say no one has every been something scary-not until they were older, and honestly, they just thought, “this looks scary, I think that looks fun”, not “this looks scary, I want to join a cult when I grow up and spend my life on the dark side”. It’s just one day. I totally understand that there is a dark underground of weirdness with this stuff-but if we emphasize the fun, and make that part of it stand out, that is what will stick in our children’s minds. I DO think it’s important to just not take them into that gross costume shop, I am very careful about what images they see (I hate scary movies, and even with my older teens, talk to them about how incredibly stupid they are), and steer them towards the fun.
    I know there is a trend to not participate in Halloween or even Santa now-I am not judging people’s freedom to make that choice for their family, but sometimes it seems over the top to me, and they actually draw more attention and put more emphasis on the bad and then the kids feel drawn to it when they are older because they see it as something they were “missing”. I don’t want to surrender Halloween to all the dark-side weirdos, I say we fight back and keep it wholesome!

  2. I saw an article about a woman whose corpse was mistaken for a Halloween decoration. It made me realize just how gory our decorations must be that the corpse of a real, human woman was not recognized for what she was.

    That said, I am absolutely torn. I don’t want my kids to miss out, but I don’t mind that they miss out on bad television or immoral music that is rampant. I just don’t have a clear answer. Some of the traditions are fine, even beneficial (and like you say, rooted in Catholic traditions.) I think we can use Halloween (even the bad stuff we will almost inevitably encounter) as a reminder that a) evil is real and b) why it is important to pray for those who have passed away on All Saint’s/All Soul’s Day. But, so much of our modern Halloween celebrations are just an invitation to become numb to evil and to encourage a culture of death.

  3. Kim,
    Thank you so much for this article!! So fitting as this is indeed Halloween week. I, too, am not fond of the Zombies, ghosts, witches, skulls, etc. I love Autumn and the pumpkins and fall colors and cooler weather and all… But no thank you to the other! I myself feel torn every year as to how much participation in this spooky holiday do I really want my children to have? Thank you for your insight into the history of All Hollows Eve and the perspective on skulls and whatnot. I like knowing there is some actual history there and it’s not just a day to glorify evil and mean pranks and the undead. My 5 children all love dressing up and trick or treating, though we do not allow any costumes that are scary or gruesome (no witches, ghosts, zombies, etc.) out of respect for younger siblings and other young children we may see in our trick or treating ventures. They get the fun of dressing up and when they get home all of the candy goes to work with Daddy and my children get a few $s to spend at Walmart in trade. 😊😊 And mom? I enjoy all the fall colors, pumpkins, cooler weather and making homemade soup and pumpkin bread. 😄🍁🍂🍁🌻🎃

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