Halloween: A Christian Holiday?
Or a holiday to practice being Christian?
Did you know Halloween is a Christian word?
Every major feast in the church has a celebration the evening before. The most famous of these ‘Eves’ is Christmas Eve. The second most famous is Halloween. Halloween is a contraction of All Hallows Eve. The “n” at the end comes from the archaic form of ‘eve,’ ‘even’ (think evening). Hallows Even, which is a mouthful, turned into Halloween.
The feast on the next day, November 1, we now know as All Saints Day (rather than All Hallows Day), but either way it is a day set aside to remember those who have died in the love of God. It’s that association with the dead that leads to the ghosts and ghouls and spirits and other forms of undead-dead people characteristic of Halloween.
Most of the rest of Halloween is a giant creative leap from there. Spiders: well they like hanging out in graves and haunted houses. But somehow connecting the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or Iron Man costumes we’ll see today week to the Christian feast exceeds my power of explanation.
In fact, let’s be honest. Even if the church decided to move All Saints’ Day, Halloween would stay right where it is on October 31. Halloween may have a Christian name and Christian roots, but it’s a secular holiday. Whereas there’s something to be said for putting Christ back in Christmas, putting Christ back in Halloween doesn’t have nearly the same ring.
If there’s no hope of (and I think not much to be gained from) trying to make Halloween back into a Christian holiday, there is much to be said for being Christian on Halloween. Or at least three things to say:
First, Halloween is a feast day on which we remember what it is to feast ridiculously. Sure, there may be more food on Thanksgiving or Christmas, but on no other holiday is the food so ridiculous and absurd as the candy on which we gorge at Halloween. I asked Addie what here favorite part of Halloween is and the answer was immediate: the candy. Sure, some people try for a healthy Halloween, but kids are sure deep down that the old lady who gives out apples at Halloween also considers the Grinch her favorite Christmas character.
On a feast day, let this feasting be ok! When Jesus uses feasts as an image of the kingdom of God (one of his favorite images), nowhere does he mention that the diet starts tomorrow, or that the food provided is low in sugars and saturated fats. When you’re four, there’s not a lot better than tearing into candy and achieving a sublime sugar high. Let the candy-eating joy be contagious. There’s something like that in God’s kingdom. To hell with the stomach ache. Literally.
Second, on Halloween a whole bunch of your neighbors are going to walk up to your front door and ring the doorbell. They will knock. Will the door be opened? They will seek. What will they find? Will you greet them, kids and adults alike, with joy and warmth? (This is possible even if you’re dressed as a vampire.) Will you treat trick or treaters with love, or just with chocolate?
Trick-or-treating is not a great time to preach at people (though can you imagine how St. Paul would have salivated at the prospect of a holiday on which the whole neighborhood came to his house!). But the next Sunday, those same neighbors will see you get in your car and go to church. Given the interaction they had with you on Halloween, will your going to church make sense to them or will it surprise them?
At Halloween your neighbors will knock. Will the door be opened? They will seek. What will they find?
Finally, think about how amazing an exercise of faith this whole holiday is. We’re literally going to let our kids take candy from strangers. It’s possible to celebrate Christmas without having faith in anything. Not so when it comes to sending your kids out trick-or-treating. Let it not be said that people in our culture can’t believe in anything.
What else might they come to have faith in?
– Fr. Dad