Reinventing The Halloween Light

by SDG

in Liturgical Year


It’s that time of year again … when autumn leaves begin to crackle, scents of apple and cinnamon fill the kitchen, and howls of Christian indignation over Halloween split the silence. What’s a faithful Christian to do when his kid pleads to take part in the annual Free Candy Fest? Should he let his kid dress up in the Most Popular Costume of the Year and beg treats from the neighbors? Should he make the child dress up as a saint and go to an All Saints’ Eve Party? But what if he’s not a Catholic and doesn’t believe in letting his kid admire saints? Perhaps he should honor the Great Pumpkin by throwing a Celebration Of Autumn Day or honor Martin Luther on Protestant Reformation Day?

Personally, even before I became Catholic, I never saw why there was such confusion over Halloween. It was just a day for little kids to dress up and charm the neighbors into forking over miniature chocolate bars. For older kids and grownups, it was a time to indulge in a little black humor. A relative of mine, when she hit the age in between being too old for kiddie costumes and yet still young enough to enjoy trying to shock adults, dressed up as Jason from the Friday the 13th movies, wore a sign that said "Friday the 13th, Part 12: Jason Raids the Animal Shelter," and carried a stuffed-toy "Pound Puppy" tied to a length of rope. (You’ll be happy to know that she is now a well-adjusted wife, mother, and contributor to society.) After seeing that, I really could not get freaked out by kids dressing up as spooks and hobgoblins.

But now that I am a practicing Catholic, I do realize that not everyone, especially every Christian, is comfortable with allowing such, uh, dark creativity for their own children.  (To be clear, in retrospect, I too would be uncomfortable allowing children of mine to pick out costumes of the type my relative chose that year.)  Saints’ day parties, fall festivals, and, for Protestants, Reformation Day celebrations are perfectly reasonable alternatives to the traditional Halloween activities. One Christian company in New Zealand is even offering a "Light Party":

"When Halloween comes along, we face a tradition that encourages poor behaviour, ‘rewards on demand’ by trick or treating and celebrates evil by wearing scary masks or costumes.

"Many parents are not happy about this negative influence and are looking for a positive alternative …

"Are you looking for a celebration to bring your community together? Now you too can help to bring your church and community together to celebrate all that is good on October 31 with a Light Party™!"


I just wish that all of these people busily searching for alternatives to Halloween traditions that they feel are no longer appropriate for Christian families would realize that they are reinventing the light bulb. Halloween began as a Christian alternative to the prevailing pagan autumn holidays.  Halloween originally was a Christian light struck in the darkness; not the darkness itself.  Rather than eradicate Halloween, perhaps the job of Christians ought to be to reclaim it.



UPDATE: I goofed in naming the horror series that inspired my relative’s costume.  It was Friday the 13th, not Halloween.  I’ve fixed the post.  Nod and gratitude to the reader who caught my error.

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Sheri October 5, 2005 at 10:37 am

Because I value accuracy and I love the genre, I just wanted to post a teensy note to point out an error in your entry. Does it change the meat of what you had to say? Not at all, but it will quiet the fastidious demon within me.
Jason does not come from the Halloween movies. Jason is from Friday the 13th. Michael Myers is the baddie from the Halloween flicks.
Carry on.

Tim J. October 5, 2005 at 10:44 am

What better illustration could you have of Jesus’ exhortation to “ask, seek and knock” than the Halloween ritual of trick-or-treat? 😉
Halloween is what you make it, like Christmas or Valentine’s Day, or any other traditional Christian holy day.
We can’t stop people from bastardizing these things, but we can sure show them how it ought to be done!

Barbara October 5, 2005 at 10:48 am

Having gone to Catholic School, we always had off from school the next day, and since Nov. 1, was a Holy Day of obligation, the focus was where it should be: the Communion of Saints. We prepared for it before hand by studying the life of a saint, and usually giving a report.

Giacinto October 5, 2005 at 10:53 am

Yes, but is it actually wrong/sin to dress up like a zombie and go to a Halloween party where there will be people dressed up like various other evil things?

Michelle Arnold October 5, 2005 at 11:16 am

“Jason does not come from the Halloween movies. Jason is from Friday the 13th. Michael Myers is the baddie from the Halloween flicks.”
Thanks for the correction, Sheri. I’m sure my relative probably had the movie right when she created the costume, so I’ll fix the post a little later when I have some time.

Nick October 5, 2005 at 11:24 am

That is the right question we should all ask. Does dressing up as an abomination from Hell really seperate us from the world and Evil? I understand the desire to keep the kids happy, that a good desire. But as Uncle Screwtape would tell you, its the twisted virtues that nail you every time.

JohnH October 5, 2005 at 11:46 am

I’m not of the “Halloween is EVIL” group, but I’m also not very up on the idea of allowing my child to dress up as some ghoulish thing. My wife grew up in an anti-halloween household, which increases her desire to allow halloween. :-)
Last year, my daughter’s first Halloween trick-or-treating, she was Winnie The Pooh (it was also a warm outfit). I think she’s going to be a ballerina this year, which I have questions about on the warmness side of things.
Oh, and I keep asking my wife to make me an old-fashioned Cylon Centurion outfit, but she refuses. I even said I’d do the motor for the helmet and make the noises myself.

Jean October 5, 2005 at 12:41 pm

Ah, Halloween! I never understood why some people thought it was unChristian. At Sacred Heart Catholic School (K-8), we usually had morning classes, then put on our costumes after lunch. Earlier in the week we had hung drawings of Halloween – graveyards and Jack-O’-Lanterns and devils sneaking up on people. In the afternoon, we found out who won for best drawings and who won for best costumes. We had games and sometimes a movie (like “Darby O’Gill and the Little People”).
I remember in 8th grade when I won Scariest Costume for dressing as a witchdoctor with a mask I made out of paper maché. That was the same year that one of the first-grade girls won a prize for dressing up as one of our teachers. (The sisters got a big kick out of her little habit and scapular, not to mention the tiny wire-rimmed glasses.) I also remember kids dressing as the pope or their guardian angel.
I think the biggest concern about Halloween was really about the night before – Devil’s Night here in Michigan. But everyone knew that was hooligan teenagers, not trick-or-treaters.

Tammy October 5, 2005 at 1:38 pm

Halloween’s my favorite holiday :)
I love christmas and easter, and the Triduum is very special to me… but there’s no weird familial obligations at halloween. We don’t have to deal with mom going into rage mode because christmas and thanksgiving stress her out, I don’t have to deal with my brother’s refusal to eat Easter dinner because he’s an athiest… or the sheer exhaustion I face at christmas and easter because of the amount of time I spend preparing music, and being at every rehersal and mass…
There’re no expectations, no family crises… i can have my friends over, and we can dress up and be a bit childish, and it’s OK, because it’s halloween.
We like to throw candy at the kids from the porch. they seem to like that :) The little kids get nice soft candybars and the big kids get jawbreakers.
When I came back to the church, I tried really hard to be a fundamentalist and hate halloween, but it’s fun. and we just don’t have enough fun in the world. And I love horror. I’ve tried to see that as evil, and such, but it’s not working. Sure they’re largely inaccurate, but I just like ’em.
I get a little weary of everything I like being “evil.” Harry Potter, halloween, “monster” novels… I feel like we’re splitting hairs.
Part of the point literature, or art, or even mythology (to a degree) is helping us understand the human condition. Horror is just a genre. And when it comes down to it, in controlled environments, people LIKE being scared. You can call it cathartic, you can call it being an adrenylin junky… but horror movies and haunted houses wouldn’t “work” without the temporary suspension of disbelif. We know it’s just a movie. We know it’s just wood and people in masks… but we still scream. Aparently there’s something in human psychology or the human condition that needs or wants it.
I’m sure people’ll call me a bad christian because of it, because I “live in the world” or of the world, or however you choose to interpret my life… I don’t like “christian” fiction. it comes off as preachy. I don’t like christian rock and christian pop, it comes off as pretensious to me. I want to read about people with real problems. not necessarily ones that always believe exactly as I do, and do the “right thing” or have a “spiritual awakening.” That just seems so… fake to me. Faker than a guy waking up as a cockroach one day.
I like fun, and I like candy. I like haunted houses and little kids dressed up like spider-man. I like dressing up like comic book characters, or fairies. I like beaming teenagers in the head with candy and having them actually enjoy it. I like purple, and fake spiders webs with plastic spiders laying in wait for horrified barbie dolls and putting black lights on my porch so trick-or-treaters glow. I’m tired of not having fun and not being imaginative because someone SOMEWHERE might constrew it as me being non-christian/non-catholic.

pha October 5, 2005 at 2:19 pm

In addition to Is Catholicism Pagan? and Can Catholics Celebrate Halloween?, I’d recommend the All Hallows Eve Faith Fact from Catholics United for the Faith. It’s got some great historical information regarding this “American Melting Pot” holiday.
Halloween is a very popular holiday in my family :)

Margaret October 5, 2005 at 2:42 pm

I agree with Tammy. I love Halloween. Yea ghouls. Yea witches. YEA CANDY!!! Yum.
I do get a little annoyed when some families or groups insist that theirs is an exclusively “All Saints Day” celebration. There is no way I’m making second costumes for all my kids, and frankly, they don’t want their Halloween costumes to be of St. Francis and St. Clare. So that leaves us *out* of a good portion of these parties… OTOH, the Opus Dei center near my home throws a real “Halloween” party each year, complete with haunted house and spiderwebs and such. My then 9-yo daughter commented to me last year how cool it these totally Catholic gals could celebrate Halloween “normally.”

derringdo October 5, 2005 at 3:12 pm

The horror genre *can* be redemptive and focussed on conquering the darkness. Anybody who thinks otherwise needs to sit down with a copy of Horror of Dracula or Brides of Dracula sometime. It isn’t always, but it can be.
Similarly, alot of the “classic” monsters are not meant to be evil per se, just scary: the Frankenstein monster, King Kong, etc.
It shouldn’t be so hard to reclaim Halloween as a kind of “Carnival” festival, celebrating God’s love for even the ugly and the unloved, and the coming triumph of Light over Darkness. Actual demons, and the more evil-oriented monsters-yeah, kids probably shouldn’t dress as those. But alot of the criticism is I think way overblown.

Benedict October 5, 2005 at 3:37 pm

When I hear about people who think Halloween is some pagan holiday that is corrupting their kids, I want to dispense some sense upside their head (the good old-fashioned way to learn someone some sense).
Halloween is my favorite holiday. I live for October 31st.
And anyone who knows a certain Dante Alighieri knows that “demons” and “devils” and “hellspawn” are perfectly fine for Christian sentiment.

pha October 5, 2005 at 3:44 pm

All the basic elements of American Halloween– like dressing in costumes and begging for food or money door-to-door– are rooted in Christian customs (both Catholic and Protestant).
Catholic roots of Halloween customs include the Danse Macabre allegorical theme and the “soul cake” begging associated with All Souls’ Day (Nov 2). Protestant roots of Halloween customs include celebrations of Guy Fawkes/Powder Plot Day (Nov 5) and Reformation Day (Oct 31). And pretty much every agricultural society, regardless of religion, has harvest festivals.
I think the “Light Party” people have got trick-or-treating all wrong when they say “we face a tradition that encourages poor behaviour, ‘rewards on demand’ by trick or treating.” In 17th century England, masked Protestant revelers went to Catholic homes to demand beer and cakes for Guy Fawkes’ celebrations. That’s pretty mean-spirited, I’d agree, but modern American five year-olds are not indulging in the original prejudices and oppression associated with Powder Plot customs. In the 9th century, as I mentioned briefly above, Christians would go door-to-door begging for “soul cakes” (pieces of bread with fruit in it) in exchange for promises to pray for the repose of the giver’s deceased relatives– a perfectly decent All Souls’ custom. Perhaps that giving spirit is gone from the begging custom, but modern kiddies certainly don’t harbor any ill-will when they ask for a jaw breaker or mini chocolate bar. Most, in my experience, are very grateful.

Puzzled October 5, 2005 at 8:24 pm

How about a Catholic Reformation celebration?
and of course, if it hadn’t been for Exurge Dominie . ..

pha October 6, 2005 at 8:49 am

How about a Catholic Reformation celebration?
Because there’s nothing wrong with just celebrating Halloween to begin with. Why replace it?

Nick October 6, 2005 at 11:27 am

I will again voice my disagreement for some of the reasons stated above. Namely, it has become “cool” to celebrate the darkness rather than the conquest of light over darkness.
After my original post I was mussing about my RPG days. In the good-ol-days you played heroes fighting monsters and rescuing damsels. Then something changed. The monsters became the characters sometime before The Worlds of Darkness ™ rollout. You no longer saved the damsel. You generally raped her, pillaged her town, and then ate her. The same corruptions can be seen in many festivities. We should diligently ask ourselves, not what we would enjoy, since the flesh is easily entrapped by its desire, but what God would approve of.

pha October 6, 2005 at 11:53 am

it has become “cool” to celebrate the darkness rather than the conquest of light over darkness.
Don’t be absurd. There are no restrictions against goodness on Halloween. You can dress up as anything you want. Put on a lightbulb costume and rage against the night.

Carol October 11, 2005 at 1:06 pm

Why in the heck would we want to celebrate the Deformation?(Oh, I meant Reformation.)

Maureen October 31, 2005 at 9:17 am

On my Maria Lectrix free audiobook/podcast blog, I read Chesterton’s essay “The Nightmare” on Friday. (You can find it easily on the Web, in his now-public domain collection Alarms and Discursions.) I think it’s highly topical and sensible.
The key to Chesterton was regarding horror stuff and even old pagan religions as a “toy” which well-formed Christians can play with, as part of God’s dominion over all things. Actually taking these things seriously or worshipping them was wrong and stupid, but play was not. Those who could play with these things should; those who couldn’t would be better off staying in their comfort zone with things of beauty. It’s a super-excellent essay that I think should be better known.
“I will answer the call of Chaos and old Night. I will ride on the Nightmare. But she will not ride me.”

chiam October 10, 2006 at 9:04 am

This Halloween, why not read a biography on Martin Luther. Bainton is a good place to start.

socmjosh August 26, 2007 at 2:24 am

It’s ages and ages since we met last.

Kristie Kreps October 25, 2007 at 7:21 pm

I have really enjoyed reading some of the post here. My view on halloween is there is nothing wrong with it. Look at it this way, scripture states in the KJV of the Holy Bible, Jeremiah 17:9-10 The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperatley wicked: who can know it? I the LORD search the heart, I try the reins, even to give every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings.
I do not believe that dressing up and having fun on halloween is a sin. My Father in Heaven knows my heart and it does not matter if i pretend to be the worst possible creature that could crawl this dying land, My Lord and saviour knows my heart and enjoying Halloween will not keep me from Heaven. We may be able to fool other people, but we can’t fool God. He knows when we are pretending. Think about a Halloween mask, you dress up and pretend to be someone else. But, your parents still know who you are under the mask. The Bible says God searches our hearts and minds. We can put on our Halloween mask and pretend we trust Him. But if inside, under the mask, we really don’t trust Him, He’ll know it. God says He will treat us the way we are under the mask, not as we pretend to be on the outside. So drees up as anything you want to be and go get some candy and have a blast. There is nothing wrong there, just make sure your heart is in the right place and watch your behavior on halloween and any other night, because that alone (behavior) is what crosses the line. You can have fun without giving Satan a chance to get in the game. GOD BLESS YOU ALL,
and be safe on Halloween.

Custom Essays January 28, 2009 at 2:48 am

Thanks for your information. Most of the posts in the blog is really valuable. Regards

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