Dear Parish Faithful,
Trick or Treat?
Just a few words about the current “feast” of Halloween. For Christians, at least, there is more than one approach to this widely-celebrated and ever-popular day. On the one hand, there are those who make it a matter of principle to avoid Halloween at all costs. This position is based on the historical roots of this day in pagan and even “demonic” associations from the past – the All Hallow’s Eve, when the powers of darkness were temporarily unleashed upon the world in one form or another. It is precisely the pagan roots of Halloween from the past that convince some Christians that Halloween must be avoided. Personally, I believe that this is a legitimate position that some Christians will sincerely arrive at. This position need not be scoffed at as “extreme,” “overly-zealous” or, finally, “fanatical.” It is, simply, a particular position arrived at after some careful reflection and thought. There is nothing wrong with a principled “reading” of the culture. Of course, such Christians must avoid the shrill denunciation of other Christians who do not agree and thus observe Halloween after their own manner. And, over-emphasizing the “demonic” has its own inherent dangers and temptations. Constant fear of the prevailing culture can become obsessive and spiritually unhealthy. On the other hand, it is the vast body of other Christians who simply approach Halloween as a more-or-less innocuous one-day celebration that does not take itself too seriously, and thus trivializes the “demonic” in the form of ghosts, ghouls, goblins and haunted houses all contrived to maximize the “fright factor” to one degree or another. This will include putting on a costume, “trick-or-treating” around the neighborhood, or going to a Halloween party. Usually, this is all far too “tacky” to create any sort of negative effect. It is an opportunity for children to enjoy themselves as Halloween relieves them temporarily from their daily routines with a bit of fantasy. Perhaps the greatest thing to fear is the amount of candy our children will consume within just a few days time. Who wants a child on a sugar high! (Have you ever noticed the slight disappointment registered on a child’s face when you drop a box of raisins or a pencil in their bag?). Or, alternatively, Halloween can be deflected toward a kind of harvest feast celebration that underplays the “fright factor” by consciously choosing to stress a wholesome Fall atmosphere that appreciates the changing seasons. Anyone for apple cider or apple-dunking amidst the bales of hay and pumpkins? Halloween, thus, can evoke many different responses among Christians, a few of which I just briefly outlined. There is room for legitimate disagreement here. In my opinion, this is ultimately a matter of choice that each Christian family makes for itself. If I were asked, I would advise families to avoid costumes that somehow play into the darker images implied by Halloween - vampires, witches, devils, ghouls, etc. No matter how trivial or innocuous, such images are meant to evoke “dark forces” or “evil” at some level and, as a matter of principle, should be avoided by Christians.
Personally, I can never quite understand the obsession with Halloween that is so entrenched in our culture. (Though, as a boy, I was a happy participant in trick-or-treating). I understand that it is now a billion dollar industry! Why adults choose to dress up for the day in more-or-less silly costumes is also rather baffling to me. Is it a sign that people need to “celebrate” something – anything – that removes them from the mundane reality of daily living? In a secular society, there no longer exist that many “feast days” that promise a glimpse of something “other.” Is Halloween in its present commercialized and trivialized form a rather pitiful substitute for what were once celebrations of divine and transcendent realities of the Christian year? Or perhaps we like to pretend to be a little frightened by “unseen forces” in a controlled and non-dangerous environment. This also supplies a bit of escapism. Whatever the case may be, the day will come and pass quickly enough, and then it’s back to “real life.”