Is it okay to celebrate Hallowe'en?
It’s Hallowe’en!! Time to dress up!! Time for candy!! Time to party!!
Time to dress up like gouls, ghosts, monsters, vampires, zombies…
Like Superman, Batman, policemen, firemen, PRIESTS, Darth Vader, ninjas, Snow White…
Like trampy schoolgirls, trampy cowgirls, trampy housemaids, trampy nurses, trampy ….
Hmm. Not so sure about that last list. Sad but true.
So the question is asked, as it is to me quite often – isn’t it a sin to even practice Hallowe’en? Aren’t we encouraging a fascination with evil and the occult?
Well, the answer is no we aren’t – that is, as always, for those of us who are able to exercise some moderation. In fact, believe it or not, Hallowe’en is kind of a Catholic holiday.
See the reason Hallowe’en is October 31, is because the word Hallowe’en derives from “All Hallow’s Eve,” or the evening (night before) of All Saints Day, which is November 1.
So why would we dress up as a vampire on All Saint’s Day?
Well, that ties in with an old celtic belief, associating this time of year with shorter days and longer nights, that during this period there was an overlap between this world and that of the dead. As such, all the dressing up as evil things like ghost and zombies were intended to disguise people from the evil spirits, and to ward them off.
But we don’t believe that stuff anymore. So why continue the practice of dressing up in scary ways?
Well, one thing is that most people like to be scared, at least a little bit. There’s an adrenalin rush, which feels good. Too much fear, DREAD or TERROR, well, that’s no fun. But a little bit of fear, people are drawn to that – hence, scary movies, scary costumes, scary boyfriends, etc.
And, in small doses, I think this can actually be helpful. Personally, I think there can be value in familiarizing ourselves with things that would scare us – this is a way of overcoming our fear.
One thing I’ve come to believe FOR SURE is that the power of evil is transmitted through FEAR.
If people are fascinated by the occult, and seek to investigate it, this is usually derived from a desire to be powerful and to control, which is an ambition entirely motivated by fear of powerlessness. I can’t imagine how this could lead to a good place.
On the opposite extreme: those who, motivated by their fear, demonize ANYTHING that is not specifically Christian – this often means rejecting ANYTHING or ANYONE that is secular – often set themselves as judge over others, and can even end up demonizing other people, other races, other religions.
Standing in the middle between these extremes is the casual practice of simply dressing up as scary monsters, just for fun – it helps us to integrate ourselves with what would be called “our dark sides”, which aren’t necessarily dark if we use them in positive ways.
By that I mean using the “dark” impulse of anger to stand up to social justice, using the “dark” impulse for sexuality to celebrate the beauty and dignity of human beings, using the “dark” impulse of ambition to be ambitious for the higher gifts, etc.
Even Fr. Gabriele Amorth, the Vatican exorcist, (who probably would have disagreed COMPLETELY with my last FAQ on Harry Potter) has said that the casual practice of Hallowe’en is okay. “If English and American children like to dress up as witches and devils on one night of the year that is not a problem. If it is just a game, there is no harm in that. “ Gyles Brandreth, “The Devil is Gaining Ground” The Sunday Telegraph (London), March 11, 2000.
Still, Hallowe’en doesn’t make it okay to dress in ways that it IS NOT OKAY to dress at any other time of the year – in ways that are demeaning to the human body, or ways that could indeed lead to a fascination with evil – I’m never gonna like seeing people dress up as demons.
But in terms of just helping us to integrate and overcome some of our unconscious fears, I suspect that Hallowe’en is harmless. In that sense it would indeed be a celebration of the FACT that evil has been defeated – that God’s love has been victorious over evil, despite the fact that evil still seems to be lingering in the world. As such, what better time than the celebration of All Saints day, the day we celebrate our potential participation in Christ’s victory, as is already shared by the Saints.