To Boo or Not to Boo: That is the Question!
It is that time of year again. Halloween is on its way, and with it comes the question of whether or not good Christians should take part in its associated rituals. The reason for the question is that Halloween was once a pagan festival. The Druids celebrated it in the British Isles, in pre-Christian times. The festival was called Samhain (pronounced Sah-win). It was a time when the pagan Celts celebrated summer’s end. They believed that at this time the veil between this world and the next was very thin and that the dead came through the veil to confront the living. There were many rituals connected to the festival, most of which put the focus on the powers of darkness and divination.
The Christian Church throughout the centuries has used the appropriation of pagan festivals and celebrations as a method of evangelism. For instance Christmas was born out of two celebrations, that of Saturnalia, the festival of the rebirth of the sun god Saturn, and the Birthday of the Unconquerable Sun in honor of the sun god Mithras. And Easter was originally the spring festival for the heathen goddess Astarte.
So the church, seeing the popularity of Samhain, appropriated it and introduced the feasts of All Hallows Eve and All Saints Day when the dead in Christ would be commemorated and celebrated. No longer would the feast however, be a time of fear of death and the dead, but instead it would be a time of laughing and making fun of the dead, (dressing in scary masks and costumes) and then the next day, of rejoicing with the saints in light.
The real question for all of us in any celebration during the year is this: What is the motivation and purpose behind our festivities? If our celebration of Halloween is filled with the practice of witchcraft, sorcery, and the worship of a pagan god, and if it leads us to ask for help or guidance from anyone other than the one true God, then perhaps we should give it up. But if instead, it is a time of celebration and laughter, a comedy in which we make fun of all that scares us by dressing up as the figures who are supposed to frighten, and if the whole point of the holiday is to delight young and old alike with a sense of the generosity and fun that is a part of true community, and if we follow all that by remembering with gratitude all those who have gone before us, graduated from this life, and are now experiencing the nearer presence of God, then let’s celebrate!
It has always been part of the Christian tradition to celebrate. St Ignatius of Loyola told his seminarians “Laugh and grow strong!” St. Philip Neri danced in the presence of cardinals and wore his clothes inside out, just for the fun of it. And Teresa of Avila taught her nuns to dance on holy days and even gave them castanets to enhance their joy. So get out the spiders and cobwebs, the jack-o-lanterns, the bobbing apples, the spooky Halloween stories, and the candy. And perhaps we might have a little table of gratitude in our homes set with mementos of those who are dear to us who have gone on to be with God. What a wonderful way to honor their memories.