Monday, October 31, 2011

The Sticky Subject of Halloween

Before my conversion to Catholicism, I didn't realize that Halloween was, even among some Catholics, one of those hotly contested subjects that can tell a person everything that they could possibly need to know about a family on par with other heavily-assumption-laden-topics like headcovering, co-sleeping, NFP use and whether or not a household has a television (I'm hoping you note the sarcasm in italics and don't think I'm being serious...  I'll note it just to make sure it's not missed!).

As a protestant growing up I'd known families that were of the let's-go-down-in-the-basement-and-wait-for-the-end-of-the-world-every-October-31st variety, and so I approached the entire issue carefully, turning to the be-all-end-all of all sources of Catholic information for the answer, the world of Catholic forums (maybe we should just assume that all italics in this article aren't serious.  Just for today.).

And I learned some very interesting things.  I learned that the Pope had condemned Halloween and said that it was Satanic.  The Pope.   When I asked for a source, the answer was never actually the Pope, it was usually a particular priest (whose books I have found very interesting) or an article in the L'Osservatore Romano (the Vatican's newspaper), which has caused it's own share of troubles over the years and shouldn't be read as some sort of infallible weekly report.  Responses to "but that isn't the Pope..." were usually cut off with "The Pope!  Are you going to question the Pope?!?!" Who can argue with that?

So I began to read, feeling a little bit guilty about my attachment to the holiday, which really comes from the fact that I think that dressing up can be fun, and that candy tastes good, and that I don't really see the harm in taking the kids to the local school/park/whatever and letting them run around dressed up as princesses or clowns.  

I mean, don't get me wrong, I cringed when I got the Halloween costume catalog that some company sent us this year, complete with ten year old girls looking like they were ready for their very own street corner, just like I cringed a couple of years ago when I first saw a pre-teen girl going out with her family as a "sexy" version of Alice in Wonderland.  There are some major problems with the way that the holiday is celebrated in our culture... but you could say that about pretty much every holiday in our society.  When you make every holiday about spending money and you live in a world where "sex sells" you're bound to run into problems, or at the very least, the complete decimation of any really meaning.  

Our own celebration falls somewhere in the middle (in other words, not all costumes are religious).  The girls are dressing up as princesses today, and dressed up as princesses for the Halloween party we went to a couple of days ago.  And tomorrow Mae will be Saint Margaret (if I don't complete the Blessed Kateri costume I've been planning) while Sadie is Saint Scholastica.  We talk about the saints a lot as it is, year round and as we celebrate All Saint Days.  

I guess my final thoughts on Halloween tend to be: Celebrate it if you'd like.  Don't if you don't want to.  But let's not pretend that parents who let their kids dress up and leave the house for fun are somehow doing them a great disservice and are not actually Catholic.  That's the part that I dislike: that this holiday has been raised up as some sort of litmus test of religious belief, when it is in fact simply the vigil of All Saint's Day.  And the vigil of All Saint's Day, just like All Saint's Day itself, has some real potential for learning and fun.  

In the end, in our house, that's what it comes down to.  I want to help my children learn about the beauty and rich traditions of our faith.  So far I haven't felt that celebrating this day in two ways takes away from that.  In fact, I think it can be very enriching.

For more Halloween reading check out:

How do you handle this particular holiday?  Any big plans?


  1. Thank you Cam for this post! I'm very new to Christianity (I was raised in a small Southern town of Evangelicals though!). I'm new to Catholicism. You are someone who is thoughtful and educated and I appreciate greatly you sharing your knowledge.

  2. I love Halloween! I see nothing wrong with letting kids participate in the fun of the event. We don't do gruesome/sexy costumes - my kids usually want to be animals, princesses or career-related things (this year one of my sons is a police officer.) I think Halloween is one of the few times that it's okay to go knocking on neighbor's doors and accept a small gift from them- and it's okay to give out gifts to your neighbor's kids. What a great way to bolster community among neighbors! I also think it's a great way to get kids to practice their "pleases" and "thank yous." We love decorating for the event, too. We don't go super-spooky, but the bats and spiders and pumpkins are so much fun. It's all about the spirit in which you celebrate. Costumes, fantasy play, candy, neighborly fellowship and an evening of fun? Yes please! Mayhem, crass or grotesque costumes and rudeness? No way!

    Like most things in life, there is a happy medium!

  3. Thank you Cam for putting it so well!!! I associate Halloween with wonderful, fun memories as a child! I know quite a few people that I am even "embarrassed" to admit to that we will be trick or treating!! I see it (as my daughter) as nothing more than a fun time to dress up and get candy! We dont read into it anymore than that ~lol! And tommorow we will be headed to mass! I wish more people had the same take on Halloween as you do!!! Yall have a blessed day!!!!

  4. We celebrate Halloween in our home. We decorate, we trick-or-treat, we pass out candy, we got to parties and dances, we dress up, we love it! I don't see anything wrong with it, except like you said, what it has come to mean in our country. It somehow gives preteens and teenagers the right to dress like hookers. And the saddest part is, the parents allow it! That's what I don't get! But I can choose not to allow that in my home and keep Halloween fun for my kids. We will go to mass tomorrow for All Saints Day, and will remember our loved ones who have passed on All Souls Day. I learned a long time ago that taking ourselves so seriously and judging others because of something as silly as a holiday is really a huge waste of time and energy! And when you do enough research you find ties with the church to this holiday from centuries ago! I think it's time we all just step back and breathe!! Lol- Have a great Halloween! I hope your girls enjoy it and get lots and lots of candy (so you can eat your favorites! lol) Have a blessed week!

  5. We will trick-or-treat when our children get older, (first is 16 mo, next is due 2/12) but I was debating about no "pagan" costumes such as witches, vampires, etc. (I was appalled to find a website selling sexy costumes for toddlers. Don't remember what it was called though.) I'm glad I still have a little bit to figure it out. We have always passed out candy, though.

  6. Hi Cam,
    I've been wanting to do a Dia de Los Muertos altar for a long time. I think it is good to pray for the dead and remember them. But the alter could potentially scare away people looking at our house and I didn't have time this year...Maybe next year. Taking Susi to her Papi's workplace where they give out candy at all the cubicles and there are fun activities and pizza. Plus checking out more apartments, just in case we get to move soon. Susi will wear her presentacion dress, may just be the most expensive costume there, lol :).

  7. I would say it's usually the other way around; people who don't celebrate Halloween are not the majority in Catholic circles. We don't and I would love it if people stopped thinking that we come from a "holier than thou" position. (You didn't do this, btw). It simply falls off the calendar after our priorities have been put on.

    We don't celebrate Halloween primarily because there really isn't anything to celebrate other than dressing up and getting I honestly don't have TIME to do both the secular holiday and the holy day. We go BIG BIG for All Saints' Day. Maybe it's the number of kids that I have but two sets of costumes is insane and wearing All Saints' garb around the neighborhood is fine except for the fact that we need more candy like we need a hole in our collective head. The kids get tons of All Saints' candy, a party (sometimes two) and they get to dress up (along with the 364 other days of the year when they dress up to play). Then it's All Soul's Day and more rich opportunity.

    I don't get passionate about the debate because I don't think it's wrong for people to dress up and get candy. For myself, I am grateful just to be able to get our All Saints' and All Souls' day plans in place. It is a rich time liturgically speaking and I do think that the secular focus can be distracting for the typical busy family. Also, I have no problem with facing the reality of death with the kids but the amount of blood and gore depicted in a multitude of ways on my street (including a life size scaffold and various murder scenes) is enough for me to keep my little ones inside. And perhaps it's the lousy weather here or safety issues but there aren't a lot of people trick-or-treating these days anyway. Who wants to wear a giant parka and scarf over their princess costume? LOL

    As a side note... my 7-year old is running around the house in cowboy boots and hat chasing her little sister who is adorned in tutu and tiara. They keep coming up to me asking of their saints costumes are done yet. :)

  8. We celebrate Halloween, and there are actually Catholic Christian origins of Halloween. Just to name one: Halloween means All Hallow's Eve, which is All Saints' Day Eve. Just one, right there. Our old Parish priest would encourage people to celebrate Halloween because there is nothing sinful in dressing up and getting candy. Oh, I miss him.Our Deacon's family all celebrate Halloween, but here is the funny thing. At our old Church, NO ONE celebrated Halloween, and then we came to this Church and just about everyone did.
    I do believe that many of the girl costumes have gotten out of hand "sexy" this or "sexy" that. It drives me insane.


    Personally my husband and I don't celebrate Halloween...we have an 8mo old, so it will be awhile before we do the costume thing, but we do celebrate All Saints Day. I don't mind the children dressing up, but I wouldn't participate in the secular celebrations and door-to-door trick r' treating.

  10. We normally do celebrate Halloween but I forgot to buy candy this year and my normal costume Renfest Costume doesn't fit at the moment. I have a St. Francis costume somewhere from collage but I'm not sure if I'm going to wear it this year. We'll have to see closer to sundown.

  11. I LOVE All Saints, All Souls, All Hallows Eve'/Halloween and the whole of Eschatology that it is about.

    We Catholics have a rich heritage of Church teaching on the unseen realities we tend to not think about much. Life after Death, Heaven and Hell, Angels and Demons, the DEVIL... cool stuff to study and even better stuff to reclaim for ourselves in our celebration of Halloween.

    If Halloween is just secular it is rather a bust of a holiday. But when we root it in the meaning of the HOLY DAYS and give ourselves time to think about the unseen-- it can carry a lot of heavy teaching in a fun package.

  12. Someone mentioned the day of the dead. I read this over on Fr. Z's blog (a commenter left this - no sources, but this is what they said):

    The Day of the Dead is definitely occult and some priests have come out against the trappings. Some of the dubious offerings of food for the dead, for instance, was an ancient Roman custom condemned by St. Ambrose who told St. Monica to stop doing it. It is a form of ancestor worship. In addition, the Bishops of Mexico as a group, thankfully, clarified that Santa Muerta was not a saint, but a false idol, satanic, and in fact, adopted by the drug cartels as their patron saint and not to be honored. Both the Day of the Dead and Santa Muerte have roots in pagan, and even human sacrifice in the Mexican and Central American traditions. When I was teaching Latino seminarians, we had excellent discussions on these points, and the consensus was that the indigenous peoples who wanted to separate themselves from the Catholic Church and the West, that is Spain, were pushing the cult.

  13. Halloween has always been a favorite of ours; when our girls were little, their Catholic school had a Halloween Bazaar, with the children allowed to wear (tasteful) Halloween costumes (princesses, brides, clowns, Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz... one year our younger girl went as her favorite baseball player from the Braves, Ryan Klesko.)

    We never did vampires, ghouls, monsters, etc.

    This is our little grandson's first Halloween; though he won't be going anywhere besides his other grandparents' home, he will be dressed as the cutest bunny ever. :)


  14. As much as I aspire to be a curmudgeon, how could I deny my kids the opportunity to play dress-up and beg for free candy?

  15. We don't celebrate Halloween primarily because we haven't yet lived where I'd felt comfortable taking my kids out. If we lived in a nice neighborhood though with other small children and I felt comfortable with what my children might be exposed to with others dressed up and decorating and the like, I'd let my kids dress up. I don't think celebrating it is bad, I just think you have to do it right, with caution and proper direction and we just haven't lived with kids yet where I can say I was comfortable enough to do it. Maybe some day.

  16. I use Halloween as our family fundraiser of sorts. We trick or treat for UNICEF (in other words for other children). Whatever people give us in change we usually send a check in for twice that amount. So it's about giving (and receiving).

    A lot of people know about their campaign (it's been going on for 60 plus years). I try to let people know about it periodically so they can look at the holiday as being both fun, charitable, and also about remembering the Saints out there who sacrificed their lives for the service of others. It's something for my children to remember as they grow up.

    Halloween doesn't have to be all fun or totally pious either. I think it can be both. Isn't that what a feast day is about?



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