(Before I begin, I want to make it clear that while I differ from my family-of-origin, I do appreciate my parents' take on Halloween, esp. in light of Lutheran theology on our deceased brethren.)
A couple years ago, it seemed every Catholic mommy blogger I followed was writing her own thesis on her DIY theology of Halloween: why it was really ok to not only participate, but revel in it. I read them out of curiosity, looking for some solid foundation, and ultimately rolled my eyes as I determined time and again that it was an eloquent way of excusing their desire to play dress-up and get candy.
I grew up without Halloween and somewhat intentionally, Mark and I have continued that, um, lack of tradition. You might assume it's because I found value in not participating in it myself. You would be wrong. I hated Halloween growing up, but it was a hatred stemming from intense jealousy of everyone who got to go trick-or-treating. All I wanted to do was play dress-up and get loads of candy. Wait, let me say that again in case you missed it:
1. Play dress-up
2. Get tons of free candy.
I wonder if there are any other things you could combine that a child would find more appealing. (Mark might disagree - Mr. I Hate Costumes)
Growing up, we had our own "safe" Harvest Festival parties, or the Lutheran version of the All Saints party... but I knew, or felt, these were some sort of appeasement to distract us. I probably would've been more on board if I came home with a pillowcase of loot, but that's not how they worked.
I had plenty of friends of all Christian denominations that did or didn't participate in trick-or-treating. But, this being prior to the internet, there was no weird DIY theology that I was aware of that supported this tradition. If they did, it was because it was fun. But if they didn't, they, like us, were probably well-read on the Druids and sacrifices to idols and satanic nature of this whole event.
So, if we weren't attending an alternative event, we sat in our house with all the visible lights off so as to not encourage doorbell-ringers. ...and snuck upstairs to peek through the bedroom curtains at the kids parading down the street with their costumes and growing stashes. In the earlier years, there were tears and lots of angry thoughts. As I got older, a resignation to the way things were, and a vague notion of our superiority for not embracing such evil, kept me quieter. I began to focus instead on the day-after-Halloween candy clearance. If I couldn't get loads for free, at least I could get it for pennies on the dollar. Then I became Catholic.
And nothing changed.
There are plenty of Catholics that celebrate Halloween, and plenty of Catholics that don't.
What did change was the following day: All Saint's Day. A Holy Day of Obligation for Catholics, who recognize in an intentional way that we are truly "surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses." (Heb 12:1)
Interestingly, after becoming Catholic, I began to love driving past cemeteries. I was struck, every time I saw one, that at least some of these people were beholding the face of God. It amazed me. Really. It awed me. Those people who are dead and buried are, in a very real way that I can not understand, more fully alive than I am.
I figured I would pass that along to our children. We'd just kind of ignore Halloween and celebrate All Saint's Day. I didn't feel bad about it. After all it wasn't a cop-out, it was the Real Deal. ...Until this weekend, when our son independently started drawing pictures of Jack-o-lanterns and is busily decorating his room for Halloween. Today, the fever has spread and now his sisters are in on it. Halloween is a month away and it's all I've heard about all morning from them.
I wasn't sure how to handle it. I thought I'd ignore it and it would fizzle out, but clearly that's not happening. It's definitely reaching a fever-pitch and needs to be addressed, but how does one sit down with very excited children and tell them we just don't do that here? Do I start in on the lecture on druids and idols and sacrifices? And do I really think that's where Halloween comes from, anyway?
So I had a good think about it - why we don't, or maybe we should? - and realized that I was starting to sound like a Catholic mommy blogger who was trying to excuse away her children't enthusiasm with some DIY theology.
...But then it struck me. It's not DIY theology to realize that Halloween isn't the whole story. It isn't even any of the real story. It's Easter's Easter Bunny, and Christmas's Santa Claus. I'm not hiding behind darkened doors from Santa Claus, and I'm not worried that the Easter bunny will co-opt my children's understanding of the resurrection. But our kids do know what Christmas and Easter really are, and that is what we celebrate! So, if they want to incorporate a few culturally-appropriate nods to their celebration of All Saint's Day, ok. After all, these are dead people we're talking about (and have you seen how the martyrs are depicted? - with the tools of their execution.) So put a few jack-o-lanterns in your room, decorate with spider webs, and eat a ton of candy while celebrating the life the Saints are who are alive and await their bodily resurrection. But the key is to make sure they know what it is that we are celebrating...and what is just the easter bunny.
And, for the record, we do attend a Catholic All Saint's party where they're free to dress up as a saint or one of God's creatures (like Superman, I guess, since that was Iain, last year.) and they get tons of free candy. ...and I get the good stuff because they're allergic.
With all this in mind, perhaps I'll have a chat with Mark about his take on all this and whether trick-or-treating could ever be in the cards for well-catechized kids. Maybe we'll be that house with the Sacred Heart jack-o-latern...