In Defense Of Halloween   Leave a comment

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A still from “Vampyr” (Carl Theodor Dreyer, 1932)

This is by no means intended as a scholarly essay on historical Halloween—I’m no expert—but simply an encouragement for Christians to see the good in Halloween.

I’ve known Christians who have a horrible fear of Halloween, or even a hatred of it. These Christians have referred to it as Pagan (a reasonable point, but they say that in a pejorative way), or even Satanic. They want nothing to do with what they regard as evil and anti-Christian.

But: Halloween is a Christian holiday. It’s certainly not only a Christian holiday, but it is very much a Christian holiday. The name itself comes from “All Hallow’s Eve,” referring to the eve of All Saints’ Day (1 November); in ancient Christian tradition, as in the Jewish tradition from which Christianity originated, holy days begin with a vigil at sundown the night before.

All Saints’ Day and its partner All Souls’ Day (2 November), feast days in which we remember great leaders in the church and loved ones we have lost, occur at the time of year in which we note the change from Autumn to Winter, and that seasonal change has long been considered to be a “thin” time, i.e., a time in which the membrane between the physical world we know and the spiritual world diminishes, and traffic between those worlds increases. The gates are open between Heaven and Earth; angels, demons, and otherworldly spirits may be close; the dead are closer still.

Some scholars have opined that Christian Halloween began as its own celebration, but more likely it was adapted from other ancient harvest festivals, most prominently the Celtic harvest festival of Samhain. And that doesn’t mean we should steer clear of it; a great many Christian festivals have some roots in other traditions, including Christmas and Easter.

(It’s important to be aware of cultural appropriation, and ways in which dominant cultures—including later Christianity—steal traditions from the cultures they oppress, but in these ancient Christian traditions it was more the marginalized early Christians trying to adapt to the cultures in which they found themselves trying to survive, and or the cultures that adopted Christianity trying to meld traditions).

The increasing popularity of Dia De Muertos, the Mexican version of All Souls’ Day, has helped, as it is deeply tied to Catholicism. It likewise began as a harvest festival, and focuses on honoring dead ancestors. There are some significant cultural appropriation issues there as non-Latinx Americans adopt these traditions—to the point of creating a Disney/Pixar movie about the holiday—but at least it’s opening people to the spiritual truths contained in this season.

A good way to look at the creation of Halloween after the fashion of Samhain is to consider that both Christians and non-Christians over many centuries were noticing something; they were experiencing things at that time of year that made them consider their mortality, honor their dead, and celebrate life. They were noticing that “thinness” between worlds.

I think Christians have largely forgotten how to notice the mystical, mysterious, and spiritual. And learning how to recognize those things again would help us make peace with mortality. Making peace with death is a key part of every Christian’s responsibility, and so Halloween, along with All Saints and All Souls, is a bit like Ash Wednesday in its memento mori quality.

And so we take part in these rituals that do those things: we remember the Communion of Saints, and our dead loved ones; we dress up as people or types we might want to be, in order to live our short lives to the fullest; we tell stories of ghosts, vampires, and headless horsemen to put a concrete form on the spirits traveling between the worlds around us. We put up cardboard skeletons and devils to laugh in the face of death and damnation.

Are there people who are using the holiday for evil? Maybe, but I suspect very few at most. Recognize that those of non-Christian traditions are honoring the same aspects of life and death that we are.

So Christians, do not fear Halloween. Enjoy it! Dress up; have a party; tell ghost stories; eat, drink, and be merry (responsibly); Visit a cemetery (respectfully). Or if you’re an introvert like me, stay home and watch a scary movie (I plan this year to revisit “Vampyr” [Carl Theodor Dreyer, 1932], which is very much about that traffic between worlds).

Please skip the racist and culturally-appropriating costumes; skip the portrayals of mental illness as scary; skip cross-dressing for mere comedy’s sake; skip anything demeaning or insensitive.

By all means, pray: remember saints and loved ones; pray for the safety of your fellow revelers—particularly children; pray for peace with your own death; pray for the ability to see—and make friends with—the spiritual and mysterious around us. Go to church; light a candle. Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return; remember that that is a holy thing.

Posted 25 October 2017 by Br. Scott Michael Pomerenk, BSG in Uncategorized

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