Is it just me, or do the Halloween mommy wars seem to be heating up early this year? Maybe I’m just more tuned in because my kids are older, and therefore have stronger opinions on which horrible acrylic superhero costume they’d most like to don from Costco this year. Or maybe things really are more intense?
Whatever the case, I wanted to offer a curated list of resources for justifying one’s guiltless participation in the annual neighborhood candy crawl. Because I don’t know about you guys, but there’s usually only one way Butterfingers are coming into my possession, and it’s through the unintended generosity of my sleeping children and their unguarded plastic pumpkins.
So, in the spirit of the spookiest time of year, here’s a terrifying list of all the reasons you might think you shouldn’t be celebrating the Devil’s holiday (a true oxymoron if ever there was one) and why they’re wrong.
1. It’s the devil’s holiday.
False. Halloween is an abbreviated name for “All Hallow’s Eve,” aka the night before All Saint’s Day. The Church has been celebrating All Saint’s Day on November 1st for more than a thousand years, and the night before a major feast day is when the faithful hold vigil for the great celebration to come. Now, do a lot of people toss out the larger feast – All Saints Day – in favor of the precursor of Halloween? Well, yeah, because we live in a secular culture. But we ought to be able to hold our own a culture that has bastardized every other Christian holiday to mean something quite different from its original intent, oughtn’t we?
Also, death and eternal damnation? Both real. We’re all marching towards eternity, and we’ll choose to spend it in hell, eternally separated from God, or in heaven with Him forever. We probably should be spending more time focusing on our own mortality, honestly, and Halloween seems like an ideal time to broach that topic with your kids when they see skeletons and ghosts and the like.
It’s fine to choose to ignore the costumes and the trick or treating if that’s what fits your family culture best, just like you might choose to (sob) forgo Santa. But don’t choose to do this because Halloween belongs to satan. It doesn’t. It’s our feast, and it’s up to Christians to sanctify the culture in which we live.
2. Well if it’s not satanic, it’s definitely pagan.
Maybe. But not so fast. Pope Gregory III transferred the feast of All Saints to November first in the 9th century, so it could hardly have been a “reactionary response to the neopagan resurrection of the ancient harvest festival/ancestor worship” that resurged in popularity in the 19th century. And just as Christianity baptized Aristotle and co-opted December 25th for Christmas, so what if the celebration of All Saint’s – a worthy day of remembrance of the dead if ever there was one – intentionally coincides with the Celtic harvest festival/day of the dead? Think of it as a perfecting of our innate human instinct to worship and sanctify. We’re hardwired toward Divinity, whether or not we’ve heard the Gospel. That’s what evangelization is: the full-flowering of the innate sense of truth we’re all born with (maybe you call it natural law) into a relationship with the Truth we encounter in the person of Jesus Christ. So some pagan people were celebrating a feast of remembering the dead before they met Jesus and learned about eternal life (and the reality of eternity spent in heaven or hell)? Great! Let’s work with that.
3. Good Christians have harvest festivals and parties at church instead of trolling the neighborhood.
And can’t we do both? If it’s a time-constraint situation or a personal preference, that’s completely fine. In the finite economy of mommy’s time and creative energy, two separate sets of costumes and partying 2 days in a row might be a bit much, and that’s perfectly understandable, but there’s nothing intrinsically evil about knocking on your neighbor’s doors dressed as Elsa and begging for candy.
(Actually it’s the most neighborly night of the year, at least in our area, and one of the few times we actually interact with a wider orbit of neighbors. And the older folks on our block love it. So, so much. Maybe one of these two-fer saint and not costumes can help you out?)
Trick or treating is a mishmash custom of American and English Catholicism, the children of the latter practicing the custom of knocking on neighbor’s doors and begging for “a soul cake” in exchange for prayers for the souls of their departed loved ones. Sounds kind of like a corporal work of mercy to me.
4. Kids will get into the occult if you let them dress up like demonic figures/focus too much on scary stuff.
Maybe they will, maybe they won’t. Or maybe you could go the old fashioned common sensical route like my parents did, and just forbid your kids to dress up like things that are demonic or occultic. No Dementors or witches or bloodied serial killers will roam our halls. But we might very well have one million different variations on Batman in our costume box in the basement. And lightsabers galore.
We were never allowed to go as witches or warlocks or fortune tellers, but luckily there were – and are – approximately one million other costume options out there. Did your neighbor turn their front yard into a terrifying graveyard scene with skeletons and bloodied corpses crawling out of the lawn. That is weird, and I’m sorry. (And I’m also in your boat, btw.) But we simply pass on by the scary houses and trot happily on to the more brightly-lit jackolanterned porches in our hood.
You can use good judgement as a parent and decide that while your 5 year old might happily enjoy being creeped out by a giant spider in a fake web, she might not take so kindly to the dad next door wearing full zombie paint with a bloody baby doll “corpse” hanging off his shoulder. People are weirdos, and weirdos are gonna weird out no matter what. But that’s because some people are weirdos, not because Halloween is intrinsically disordered. Just go to the next house.
5. Syringes in the candy, glass in the caramel apples.
I found this one absolutely fascinating, as did my little sister when I quizzed her on it this morning. We were both able to pinpoint, almost to the year, the Halloween when our parents started dumping out all our candy and checking for drugs and needles. It tracks perfectly with this author’s explanation of the crazy (and actually anti-Catholic, super weird!) roots of this urban legand.
6. I just don’t want to get into that whole “culture of death” scene, some we’re going to sanctify the the hell out of November 1st and ignore October 31st altogether.
That’s totally fine. But I think it’s a missed opportunity to do both/and; to be in the culture as salt and light while still not being of the world. At least it might be. (And if your kids want to test out their St. George and the Dragon costumes on the neighbors before the bigger feast the next day? Bonus candy.)
As for us, we’ll trick or treat on Saturday night, and then we’ll get up on Sunday morning for Mass and a huge, awesome All Saint’s Day feast with 100 of our closest friends hosted by a wonderful religious community in our area. Complete with costumes. And if I may be so bold as to pass on a two-fer suggestion of my very own for all you other last minute (ahem) mamas out there: