Playful — Or Pagan?

It doesn’t take much to get a good conversation flowing among Catholics about Halloween.

Some feel strongly that the holiday’s pagan roots should discredit it completely from being celebrated by Christians; others embrace its quirky fun. Some tolerate it for the kids, and some are indifferent. Interestingly, one church south of Boston is inviting children to come to Mass the Sunday before (Halloween falls on a Monday this year) dressed in costumes — with the caveat of leaving the masks and/or props for trick-or-treating time only.

In 2004, Father William Saunders, who wrote the question-and-answer column “Straight Answers” for the Catholic Herald, described Halloween’s pagan origins.

“The eve of Samhain (the beginning of Celtic winter), Oct. 31, was a time of Celtic pagan sacrifice, and Samhain allowed the souls of the dead to return to their earthly homes that evening. Ghosts, witches, goblins and elves came to harm the people, particularly those who had inflicted harm on them in this life. Cats, too, were considered sacred because they had once been human beings who had been changed as a punishment for their evil deeds on this earth.”

Father Saunders doesn’t denounce the celebration of Halloween by any means, but he does make it clear that its origins leave something to be desired.

Heading in the other direction, columnists Bill and Monica Dodds believe Halloween is good for the soul.

“It seems a shame that a recent concern suggests or declares that any sort of Halloween celebration is a demonic ritual or is so closely tied to a pagan custom that giving or receiving bite-sized Snickers puts one’s soul in peril,” they wrote in 2008.

Father Paul deLadurantaye, diocesan director of catechetics, said that as far as he knows, the Church doesn’t have an official teaching on Halloween. However, because it is the vigil of All Saints Day, “Catholics especially ought to be conscious of the origin of the word and perhaps Catholic kids could be encouraged to dress up as their favorite saint,” he said.

Many do this, especially at Catholic schools. St. Mary School in Alexandria hosts an annual All Saints’ Day parade.

Personally, I’m a big Halloween fan. It’s an opportunity to be silly and creative. It’s an opportunity to make people laugh and be a part of something memorable. As a kid, it was the only chance I had to slather on make-up and dress like an adult. As an adult, it’s the only chance I have to pull out the fabric glue and dress like a kid.

Where do you and your family fall on the spectrum? What do you teach your children about Halloween? Do you encourage dressing up as saints? Do you walk door-to-door with little pumpkins and Cinderellas? Do you do both? We’d love to hear from you!

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  • plowshare

    Our children do not go trick or treating, but when they were younger they would dress up as saints and we would get together with other Catholics and celebrate All Saints’ day or its eve, including a “Guess which saint I am” quiz show.

    I enjoy looking at (most of) the costumes the trick or treaters wear, and look upon the goodies we give them as a reward for entertaining us with their costumes. My wife is indifferent to this angle but she does like to treat the very young children of our next door neighbor, so she goes along with rewarding other trick or treaters.

  • O’Neill

    There are very different Halloweens going on around us. One is playful and actually good fun with children and adults dressing up as superheros and ghosts. The other is dark and evil with pagan rituals,some including the ghastly sacrifices of neighborhood pets and spiritual sickness. The question then becomes do we let the evil practices take away the silliness and spooky stories from the majority of people or do we take the pagan ugliness away and like the Advent Wreath make it our own? Dressing up as saints is fine but having fun as the evil cartoon villian is fine too. I was a pagan once and trick or treaters infuriated me because they ruined the solemnity of our feast night, making it a joke bringing light into the dark. Don’t think trick or treat has anyhting to do with the darkness being practiced that night. Me and mine we have fun and kids get to rule for one night- within reason.