28 October 2014


Halloween. Every year, I encounter more Catholic and Christian moms who are emphatic that Halloween is objectively evil and their family will not be participating in any way: no costumes, no going door-to-door for candy, no handing out candy from their door. And every year, I kind of scratch my head and give them a puzzled look, then go on with my own business and throw together a costume for Little Bear at the last minute out of ephemera from the sock drawer and the sewing closet.

A part of it must come back, as so many things seem to, to the fact that I grew up in a fairly rural part of Alaska. This morning it was -2 F (negative, as in below 0) as I drove Matt to work. We aren't going to be seeing anyone trick-or-treating in miniskirts here. I grew up in a neighborhood with few kids, and we never really encountered any overly gory costumes. Most people don't do creepy (or any) exterior decorating here, because what's the point if it's all just going to get covered in snow? We and our neighbors did carve pumpkins, but setting out your jack-o'lanterns for longer than a few hours on Halloween night was inviting disaster: I can't tell you how many years we woke up to the THUMP, THUMP, THUMP of moose rolling our pumpkins off the front porch to eat them.

No, really. My brother probably still holds a grudge that I set his favorite cap on a jack-o'lantern one night, and we found it the next morning covered in frozen moose slobber amid the remains of a pumpkin.

Where we live, houses are far enough apart that--especially with our typical late-October weather--kids don't wander door-to-door on their own: mom or dad drives around the neighborhood with a passel of kids in the car, and at least at our house, Mom was always done after maybe two streets of houses and that's just how it was. We all dumped our haul in the middle of the living room floor, bargaining with each other for our favorites, and then squirreled our candy away in the hopes that Dad wouldn't find it and it'd have a chance of lasting until Christmas.

(We also had a rule, as long as I can remember, that we only ever ate candy on holidays and Saturdays. So we could have a piece of candy on Halloween night, and then it got hidden in the antique coffee pots above the kitchen cabinets until the next Saturday, when we'd hem and haw for easily 15 minutes over which one piece we wanted to have that day. My younger siblings are pretty darn good at both hiding their candy from Dad/each other, and at making it last; I don't think that any of them have ever run out of candy between Halloween and Christmas, and Lent definitely helps stretch their Christmas candy until Easter. Rather than being an occasion of sugar overload and gluttony, Halloween was really an exercise in resource management.)

So, evil? I just don't see it. My experience of Halloween has always been lighthearted fun, and since we now live in the same environment in which I had that experience growing up, I don't have any qualms about introducing Little Bear to the celebration of Halloween I knew as a kid.

I'm sure it's different in other places. When we lived in town the first few years of our marriage, there were certainly a few houses in our neighborhood that went overboard on the creepy decorating; we usually went over to my parents' house on Halloween night, so I don't know what the ratio of fine-to-objectionable costumes might have been (we were in a suburban neighborhood just a couple of blocks from an elementary school, and there were a lot of kids in the area). But does the fact that some people try to make Halloween exclusively about horror mean that Catholics should refrain from celebrating Halloween?

This bit from an interview with Fr. Steve Grunow from Word on Fire Ministries jumped out at me:
What do you think of the trend of parents boycotting Halloween on account of it being evil? What would you say to them if they told you such? Not safety or healthy concerns keeping kids indoors, but abject opposition to something believed to be satanic or terrorizing?
Fr. Steve: There is a lot that is unsavory about the contemporary celebration of Halloween. What does the singular focus on violence, horror and death have to say about our culture? The traditional, Catholic Halloween placed these realities within the context of Christ’s victory over sin, death and the devil. The current secularized version of the festival has no salvific content and has been loosed from its theological moorings. It looks very much like a festival of death for a culture of death and for that reason I can see why parents might be concerned.
But what is the proper response to a culture of death? To lock the Church behind closed doors or to let her out into the world? I think it is time for Catholics to accept the religious liberties that this culture claims to afford them and go public with their own festivals- and to do so dramatically and with a great deal of public fervor. What is holding us back? What are we afraid will happen? The reticence and fear that characterizes Catholics is costing the Church its unique culture and it is allowing the culture of death to flourish.  Halloween should not be a day when our churches go dark and Christians retreat into the shadows, but when we fill the darkness with Christ's light and go out into the culture, inviting everyone to the prepare for the festival of the Saints with all the joy we can muster.
You can find the whole interview here: It's Time for Catholics to Embrace Halloween

"The reticence and fear that characterizes Catholics..."  Ouch. Fr. Grunow isn't saying here that Catholics have to be actively engaged in every aspect of modern Halloween celebrations, certainly. But he is challenging parents to "reclaim" the Catholic roots of today's Halloween observances, reconnecting them to the context of Christ's victory over evil.

What does your family do on Halloween?

Here are some more Catholic perspectives on Halloween I appreciated:

Halloween: The Real Story

How to think about Halloween as a Catholic

On Halloween

Don't Bubble-Wrap Your Kids

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