Reclaim Halloween

Popular evangelical families typically share the same sentiment about Halloween, “We don’t practice it because of its origins.” When I first heard that, I began to worry and wonder what they were referring to. Should I not be celebrating Halloween? Should I not allow my children to celebrate the holiday?

Although Halloween does have a history that traces back to the Celts and their pagan celebration of Samhein, it also has a history that is related to the liturgical year and the Church. The Church has a strong tradition of inculturation, sifting through each culture to redeem whatever is good. The most obvious example of this is in our liturgies. A Mass in Uganda has a different flavor than a Mass in Spain which has a different flavor from a Mass in the United States. All of them are Roman Catholic liturgies, but they may incorporate different styles of music, or different fabrics and embroidery for vestments.

Missionaries are the ultimate experts when it comes to inculturation. Church history is chock full of examples of missionaries traveling to foreign lands, identifying what was beautiful or good about a culture, and claiming it for Christ. One of the earliest examples of this is found in the New Testament, when Paul connects the religious practices of the Athenians to Christianity. Paul tells them, “…as I walked around looking carefully at your shrines, I even discovered an altar inscribed, ‘To an Unknown God.’ What therefore you unknowingly worship, I proclaim to you.” (Acts 17:23) Paul could have easily declared everything in the Athenian religious tradition anathema, but he didn’t. He found an aspect of their culture worthy of redemption, and he claimed it for Christ.

Halloween is no different. A celebration that was initially one of fear and superstition for the Celts became one of joy and triumph for the Church. The Church wisely situated her feast of All Saints on November 1, and Halloween (All Hallows Eve) became the new focus of the cultural practice. What was once a night of fear became connected instead to the triumph of Christ and his saints – who defeated death and the devil.

Admittedly, this is the ideal focus, and it has often been forgotten in modern practice. For evangelicals and anyone who doesn’t celebrate the joyous solemnity of All Saints or All Souls, Halloween is constantly in danger of slipping back to its pagan origins. All too often, people focus on what is scary or evil, and lose sight of the real meaning of All Hallows Eve. For that reason, many well-intentioned people of faith fear that they can have nothing to do with the celebration.

But the Church is not called to wholesale rejection of the world – we are called to claim it for Christ. Halloween is no different. Even the best of Catholics are tempted to focus merely on making Halloween fun and innocent, and miss the opportunity to make it a profound moment of catechesis.

As my oldest has grown up, we have had to face the question of Halloween. Do we celebrate it? How do we celebrate it? Now that she has started school, we know that we can’t totally shield her from questions like the inevitable, “What costume are you wearing for Halloween?” Instead, we’ve picked out Halloween costumes, and chosen to make it a moment for catechesis.

Halloween, we explain to her, is the night before All Saints Day, and it makes most sense in that light.

The saints are those who have fought the good fight, run the race, and have shared in the victory of Christ over sin and death. Our firstborn definitely leans in the direction of being overly cautious and fearful, so this is a powerful proclamation for her. Christ conquered death and all the scary things. We don’t have to be afraid of them anymore, because we have Jesus on our side! It’s because of that that people can dress in scary costumes, and put up scary decorations, because we know the truth – death no longer has a hold on us.

Are most of the people who are decorating their yards with fake cemeteries and giant cobwebs, laughing in the face of death? No. Are most of the people dressing up as witches and zombies and vampires doing so with a wink and nudge, “Where, O Death, is your victory? Where, O Death, is your sting?!” No.

But neither did the Athenians build a shrine to the unknown God in anticipation of the Incarnation. Yet, that didn’t prevent Paul from claiming it for Christ.

Our call is the same. We could entirely denounce it, or we can reclaim Halloween for Christ, in light of his and his saints’ victory over death and evil. We can point to those scary things, nudge our children, and remind them, “Jesus already beat death and sin. We don’t have to be afraid!”

By

Michele Chronister is a wife, and mother to two little girls. She is received her BA and MA in theology from the University of Notre Dame (’09 and ’11). She is the author of Handbook for Adaptive Catechesis, the co-author of Faith Beginnings – Family Nurturing from Birth Through Preschool, and editor of the book Rosaries Aren't Just for Teething. She has contributed articles to Catholic Digest, Catechetical Leader, and is a regular columnist for Ignitum Today. She is also the co-chair of the National Catholic Partnership on Disability’s Council on Intellectual and Development Disabilities. When her oldest was a baby, she realized that their family life had taken on a sort of monastic rhythm – eat, pray, play, sleep. Prompted by this, she started the blog My Domestic Monastery (www.mydomesticmonastery.com), where she shares inspiration for families wanting to grow in holiness.

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  • noelfitz

    This is a brilliant article, being sound, Catholic and inspiring. I wonder do I write this because I agree with the views so completely. The eve of All Saints’ Day is a holy day, as are all days. We should resist its secularization.

    Similarly with Christmas; it grew out of the pagan Saturnalia, and we should strive to prevent its secularization, and keep Christ in it.

    So happy Halloween to you and help the Halloween party!

  • Genevieve Cunningham

    Hi! I just wanted to let you know that from what I have been able to learn, Halloween does not have any roots at all in Samhein and pagan Celtic celebrations. I am a Catholic, but this article, written by an Orthodox Protestant, appears to be fantastically researched, and shows “pagan origins” of the holiday to not be the case. Halloween has only ever been a Catholic Christian celebration that was taken over in very recent centuries. Here’s the article:

    http://www.daimonologia.org/2014/10/halloween-orthodox-christian-perspective.html

    Also, noticing the comment by the gentleman below: Christmas (and Easter) are also celebrations that have never had any root in pagan celebrations. These are understandings that are perpetuated, but not valid when researched.

  • noelfitz

    Thanks, Genevieve, for your comments.
    By the way here in Ireland we consider the spelling is Samhain in Irtish. Other Celtic languages may differ.
    One might argue that Halloween and Christmas did not have pagan roots. But I think one could claim that Easter has roots in Judaism, not paganism.

  • Mark Chance

    Halloween did not grow out of Celtic anything. Christmas did not grow out of Saturnalia. There is no actual historical evidence to support either claim.

  • Maria 3

    Agree with the view that The Church’s mission is to do our share , in bringing it all
    back , including ourselves, to The Father , who had created it all very good , so that we get to think more of all that is true, noble , praise worthy , which of course would include thinking and thanking His friends and children ,our helpers – the saints , which we too are in varying stages of becoming , hopefully .

    Good that many communities and churches have already taken up the challenge and do so accordingly .

    Those spider nets can be reminders for asking that the families become fishers of men ..
    pumpkins of course , full of praise and so on ..

    we could even look at the eve ..of what some of our ancestors might have been …

    Last day of October, dedicated to the Mother of us all who had family lines that covered all types . The good ,for whom we would offer special gratitude and ask for
    their help tomorrow …
    and even those who were on the eve of being good , to be grateful for , to alert us to God’s mercy and need to call for more , when we face similar traits in us or those around .

    Any one in the line of the Pharisees ..who attend church , thus self righteous , greedy , envious , not intent on looking in ..The Lord dealt with them ,even warning of the possibilty of the seven fold demons … thus , good to call on His Name , which is His Presence , for sake . of all .

    Anyone with the family lines like that of the Romans and others who participated in The Passion – in deception , greed and hardness of hearts , not able to take in the good of the Father’s love where it is , to be faithful to own God given roles , thus bringing the crown of thorns , the cross …and The Lord and His Mother, in the silent strenght of The Spirit , taking on the evil , to defeat same ..

    Anyone in the line of Judas – conniving , contemptuous , silent about secret plans …The Lord has ample grace to deal with such lines too ..

    the children and families recognising the warfare aspect of our lives – may all of us be more empowered , in His Name !

  • janeasinner

    Halloween is not a Holiday.

  • Proud Catholic

    Very good points, Michele!

  • noelfitz

    Is Halloween, the eve of all saints’ day a holiday? It depends on what you mean by holiday.
    It is debated whether Halloween and Christmas grew out of pagan roots. Perhaps the consensus is that Christmas did not have its origins in Saturnalia.

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