Putting Halloween in perspective

Father Charles Bober

Faith Forum

So many people are rightly concerned about the safety of children today.  But is anyone concerned about the souls of our children?  Why isn’t the Catholic Church doing something to safeguard young people from Halloween and the evil and demonic practices associated with it?

Halloween in our part of the world arrives at a time where the seasons themselves provide mixed messages. Harvest time is usually connected with rejoicing and celebration.  Yet, the shorter days, change of leaves and temperature, seem to point to the approach of a time of challenge and danger.

In general, this time of year is often associated with not only the appearance of winter but also of the reality of death.  Somehow, the trees, plants and fields all look like they are dead, and it reminded our ancestors at least of their own death.  With that backdrop, literature, art, song, and story began to reflect death and danger.  In Celtic culture, this time of year was seen when the veil between this world and the next was “thinnest,” and it was not unusual for people to be visited by those who had died.   In some traditions, the dead who returned were not always helpful, and some even did some evil deeds on their visits.

In addition, the feasts of All Saints (November 1) and All Souls (November 2) also played their part.  These feasts also remind us of the fragility of our life on earth.  Some of the customs related to these feasts seem to have developed to offset already established pagan celebrations related to death and evil spirits.

In any case, we now face contemporary customs of rather complex origin.  Most do not involve the devil or the evil one at all.  Many involve animals, famous personalities or just scary figures.  What does the Catholic Church feel about Halloween?  We should probably not expect universal, official pronouncements on this question.  Nonetheless, it is a good to provide some reflection.

Any observer of the current scene knows well that Halloween, like many other celebrations, has become a commercial holiday.  This helps to put these questions into perspective.  As Catholics, we have long had a sense of cultural toleration.  Admittedly this has at times, gotten us into trouble.  But it also has enabled us to avoid a certain puritanical sense which empties life of its vitality and excitement.

Consequently, we can never place ourselves in a position of embracing the evil one or any form of satanic practices.  However, I would prefer not to see parents or pastors banning the celebration of Halloween altogether.  Christianity has had a long tradition of “baptizing” pagan customs it found unpleasant or even dangerous to the faith. 

Parents and pastors might do this with Halloween as well.  Certainly, some discretion about costumes is advisable.  Some parishes even have Halloween parties associated with their catechetical programs and use them (and the costumes) to teach lessons about men and women from our Christian past.

While we can never afford to ignore the presence of evil, we can understand the need for seasonal celebrations and employ them in a way that conforms to our faith.