Monday, September 28, 2015

Halloween: We Don't Do That Here...right?

or, The Rest of the Story


(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...


Reenie said...

My family didn't do Halloween either. From my earliest memories, we dressed up as saints and either hosted or went to All Saints parties. But we did carve pumpkins because it was fun. And we did get candy at those All Saints parties which was an enormous treat since my mom was the raisins in the stockings type healthy mom. I had years (middle school maybe) where I tried to argue that trick or treating isn't bad and its just because everyone else is doing it. And I never, ever was allowed to go because we don't do that. We celebrate All Saints. And as an adult, I detest halloween these days. It gets darker every year and I am firmly in the camp of not celebrating it. I do, however, celebrate fall. And I will occasionally carve or paint or create a pumpkin and decorate fallishly to my heart's content. I have also noticed a lot of spider webs around this fall and I assume your innocent children are just decorating with them because it is fall :) And besides, that pumpkin matches Iain. :) Great post, btw. Glad someone is saying this stuff out loud.

Vagabond and The Gypsy Wife said...

Personally I like Halloween. It's a festival with very ancient pre-Christian roots, subsequently Christianised by introducing All Saints Day and All Souls Day. Long ago in Scotland it was celebrated by lighting bonfires, a great symbol of hope. Halloween is the time when we feel the impact of long nights and the waning sun. Which is why it is celebrated among northern people (Celtic origin) and not European. The lengthening of the days is the cycle of nature --- nothing Christian or un-Christian about it. It was also recognized as a time when the veils between our world and the other world (call it the spiritual or angelic world) has grown thin. Hence the tradition that it's the time when ghosts are visible. Or rather, a time when our relationship with those who have gone before is stronger because they are closer than ever to us. (Hence the day of the dead in Mexico). Trick or treating is a purely modern (capitalistic)innovation that didn't exist when I was growing up. I never liked it. But dressing up? Why not? Parties --- by all means let's celebrate with our friends. Dressing up is a good way to relate to our own shadow, that we all carry. It's good to recognize it by having fun. It's good to recognize the devil in you by dressing up as something weird for one night. They say that the devil can't stand being laughed at, and I think there's some truth to it. It's when we don't recognize our shadow that it comes out in destructive ways.So, let's celebrate Halloween!