Because of the concern of many about Halloween’s origins, many Catholic parents wonder if it is OK to let their children celebrate the holiday.
Let’s be clear: Halloween can be traced back to pagan roots, with a focus on the occult, and we should not be ignorant of that fact. But certainly, in a Christian context, the holiday effectively has been baptized, as its current name suggests, as the eve of all hallows (an older word referring to saints, referenced in the “halo” saints often are depicted as having on account of their holiness). Halloween falls the day before Catholics celebrate All Saints Day, on Nov. 1. Of course, in American culture, Halloween has taken on a life of its own.
Although Halloween remains associated with the pagan and occult in the minds of many, that does not necessarily mean that Catholics cannot celebrate Halloween as a cultural event.
Americans approach Halloween in a variety of ways. The basic activities associated with the annual fall holiday are carving pumpkins and dressing up in costume for trick-or-treating, neither of which is bad in itself. It can be especially fun to play up the aspects of fall and harvest season, with its omnipresent gourds, decorative corn and dried cornstalks.
Halloween’s spooky aspect should not be overplayed, however, by people of faith. Evil spirits and demons are real and should not be invoked or celebrated. There should be some element of prayer associated with Halloween in Catholic households, especially asking protection for those who will tinker around with the occult. As the traditional Scottish prayer goes:
From ghoulies and ghosties
And long-leggedy beasties
And things that go bump in the night,
Good Lord, deliver us!
Practically, it is OK for Catholics to go trick-or-treating, always keeping in mind the importance for moderation and avoidance of gluttony, as well as remembering good manners to set an example for others — not least of which should be polite behavior when asking neighbors for free candy! Catholics also can dress up in costume for Halloween, but should keep in mind that it is best to stay away from costumes related to its pagan roots, like goblins, witches or horror film characters. Dressing up as something milder, like one’s favorite sports player, cartoon character or superhero, is a better approach.
But it might be even better to dress up as our real heroes, the saints. This is a time-honored tradition related with Halloween in which more Catholics could participate. First, it helps teach our children. Why not for Halloween take on the persona of someone we should emulate every other day — one of the saints who shows us how to stay on the path that leads to heaven? Also, it can be a witness to those around us — an everyday, ordinary way to preach without using words. We can make use of Halloween, as we should all things, to evangelize.
Michael R. Heinlein is editor of Simply Catholic. Follow him on Twitter@HeinleinMichael.