(Or, what’s with the flowers and skulls motif? Or, is a bag of Kit Kats really worth $14.95?)
It’s that time of year again: Everything’s going pumpkin spice, and scented holiday candles surrounded by clusters of plastic gourds are appearing on everyone’s coffee tables across the land. But before we get to the warm-fuzzy “holiday season” (that’s for another post!), we have to get through giant bags of over-priced, individually wrapped sugar bombs and our beautiful children dressing up as the undead.
So what is Halloween, anyway, and why do we celebrate it? Is it okay for Catholics to celebrate something that appears to glorify gore and deify death?
What does it all mean?
- November 1is the Catholic holiday (holy day) of All Saints. This is a holy day of obligation, so you’ll want to check your parish bulletin or website for Mass times. It is a day we give thanks for our saints and ask them to intercede (pray for) us in all our earthly trials on our pilgrimage to heaven. Initially, it honored only martyrs, but by the Middle Ages came to include many roads to sanctity in the literally thousands of saints of the Catholic Church.
- In ages past, this holy day was known as “All Hallows” for “all the holy ones,” and the evening before, October 31, was called All Hallows Eve. Older forms of English being what they were, things got shortened and eventually over the course of a couple centuries, we arrive at the word “Halloween” or sometimes “Hallowe’en.”
- November 2 is our Commemoration of the Faithful Departed, known as All Souls Day, in which we pray for the holy souls in purgatory. We do not try to communicate with them directly (our Faith forbids this), but we do remember them, honor their memory, and pray for their purification on their way to heaven.
- In Mexico and in parts of the U.S., the Day of the Dead, or Dia de Muertos, is celebrated as a 3-day commemoration of all the departed faithful from October 31 through November 2. Skull-faces with flowers are often associated with this cultural and religious observance, and are meant to be reminders that we are all mortal and will some day meet our Creator in judgment. This is a similar reminder to the skull or memento morifound on gravestones up until the early part of the 20th
- Halloween also coincides with the pagan festival of Samhain (pronounced “sow-inn”) which alleges the “veil between the worlds is thin” and thus is a great time to talk to the dead. For a pagan, there is no loving God and no Jesus, therefore there is no access to Divine Wisdom. There is also no Communion of Saints. This is their attempt to connect with one’s own ancestors who are thought to offer wisdom, advice, and foretelling of the future. Some of the spookier aspects of Halloween trace their lineage back to the concept of consorting with the souls of the dead, which is a pagan practice, NOT a Christian one. More on that later.
- In our present culture, Halloween has become a very secular rite that involves costumes (once donned to ward off evil spirits, back in the day), parties, trick-or-treat (also the remnant of past superstition), and a host of horror movies that open in theaters every October. There is no recognition of any spiritual or supernatural reality, which in itself is problematic.
So what’s okay and what’s not? What’s a Catholic to do?
- Trick or treat: Okay! But be safe about it. Go to well-lit houses and streets with a parent or responsible adult. Bring a flashlight. Check all your candy before eating. You know the drill.
- Costumes: Okay but with some limits.
- For kids/tweens/teens – avoid the costumes that emulate satan, demons, undead (which includes zombies and vampires), or killer/slasher villains from horror movies. Consider dressing as one of the saints instead. Get creative!
- For older teens and adults – same as above, plus skip the revealing, “sexy” costumes found at costume stores. Wearing revealing clothes, whether costume or every day, invites others to lust (see Jesus’s comment on the Sixth Commandment) and speaks to others about a lack of self-respect for your own body. It is also a mark of pride.
- The Occult: No, no, and no.
- Absolutely no ghost hunting, séances, Ouija Boards, tarot cards, palm reading, mediums, psychics, occult chanting, etc.
- TV shows like “Ghost Adventures” don’t help – avoid them, too!
- Tweens and teens often play around with this stuff for a laugh or a thrill. It is no laughing matter – for one thing, it breaks the First Commandment (Have no other gods) and for another, it can allow in evil spirits who will try to appear as “bringers of light” or poor old dead Uncle Ed. No bueno!
- Scary stories or TV/movies: This is one of those “it depends” categories.
- Scary stories can be entertaining, and if told in a family context, can be a time of bonding and can even hold out a moral or lesson. Getting “creeped out” is somehow fun, and has been for all of human story-telling history!
- That said, avoid graphic depictions of death or humans doing horrible things to others.
- Horror movies are often problematic – they can influence the imagination, resulting in undue superstitions or bad dreams in some viewers. On a spiritual level, they may even open a person to supernatural influences that are unwanted, sort of like “opening a door” within. Someone may get hooked on the idea of controlling supernatural forces, or seek out more and worse of the same.
- If it doesn’t turn your mind toward God, it’s not worth your time (and that goes for any show or movie, regardless of subject matter).
This list is not exhaustive, but it gives you some kind of measuring stick for deciding what is acceptable and unacceptable for your family. Talk to your tweens and teens about their plans before and after they go out with friends. Help them to understand the realities of being safe – not just physically but spiritually, as well.
In the Catholic Church, we remember in a special way at this time of year that we believe in the Communion of Saints, which we affirm in our Creed. Because of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we are only temporarily separated from our loved ones who have died. We ourselves will one day die but will live eternally in Christ if we have lived according to God’s will and have accepted his Love and Mercy. There’s no “trick” to that, and all we must do is allow God to love us and shape us through the Sacraments of the Church.