At this time of year the Catholic blogosphere is abuzz with discussions about Halloween. Do it? Don’t do it? Why or why not?
My sister-in-law sent me an email asking about some of the discussions she’d seen saying that celebrating Halloween is giving in to evil. I shot off a reply to the effect that I think that is a silly argument. You don’t have to celebrate it if you don’t want to; but I think that to say you’re opening yourself to evil if you do is just plain foolishness.
Mind you I used to live in Salem, MA where there are plenty of people who think of themselves as witches and probably do open themselves up to evil by what they do on Halloween and plenty more people who engage in all sorts of Mardi Gras-type drunken bacchanalian revels that are downright sinful. But she’s asking as a mother of four homeschooled kids whether it is ok to let them dress up as cowboys and princesses and go trick-or-treating and maybe carve a pumpkin. I think the only evil you’re opening yourself up to there is perhaps the sin of gluttony from eating too much candy. Or maybe greed.
But I think Sally Thomas’ answer at First Things is a much more thoughtful response (of course Sally is always wonderfully thought-provoking) and she really pulls out the Catholic elements of the holiday. Her essay The Drama of Hallowmas says everything I wish I could have said:
As a friend of mine observed recently, there is something medieval about Halloween. The masks, the running around in the dark, the flicker of candles in pumpkins, the smell of leaves and cold air�all of it feels ancient, even primal, somehow. Despite the now-inevitable preponderance of media-inspired costumes, Halloween seems, in execution, far closer to a Last Judgment scene above a medieval church door, or to a mystery play, than it does to Wal-Mart. To step outside on Halloween dressed as someone�or something�other than yourself is to step into a narrative that acknowledges that the membrane between our workaday, material world and the unseen realm of spirits is far thinner and more permeable than many of us like to think.
There is a drama to be played out, like a mystery play in three scenes, and it makes sense only if you observe all three days of Hallowmas�not only Halloween but All Saints� and All Souls� days as well. In this context, the very secularity and even the roots-level paganism of Halloween become crucial elements in a larger Christian story.
Christian children need not, as some do, dress as saints for Halloween to �redeem� it. There is something right, I think, in acknowledging on Halloween that the day for the saints has not arrived yet. This is salvation history, after all. We are saved from something�even if only from the ordinary, secular world of I Love Lucy, in which the sun rises and sets on Lucy�s dream of being in Ricky�s show.
If I don’t stop myself I’m going to end up excerpting the whole piece. But do go and read it all. There are more good bits left that I haven’t plucked.
And while we’re at it go see what The Anchoress wrote on the subject of loving Halloween.
All that said, we’re probably not doing much celebrating here at Casa Bettinelli. We bought a pumpkin today at the grocery store and that plus giving out candy to our neighborhood trick-or-treaters is probably all we’ll do this year. It’s not that I’m against the kids wearing costumes, I just haven’t had the time or energy to organize them. Having three kids three and under is hard and I am not an organized person and I had a special sewing project that I needed to get done that was much more important than Halloween costumes and ate up more free time than I really had this week.
It’s funny, Halloween used to be one of my favorites. In college I pulled off a spectacular Ophelia and a pretty fun Lady MacBeth complete with bloody hands that stained everything I touched. When I was in grad school I had a Snow Queen outfit I was especially proud of. In the years since we’ve been married, though, we haven’t done much at all. And it’s not because October 31st is Dom’s birthday.
Last year we were moving on Halloween. We brought a car load of stuff to the new house then went out to a celebratory birthday dinner. We arrived back at our apartment after dark and had to turn away some disappointed trick-or-treaters who were miffed that we were not handing out candy though our porch light was on. I tried to explain that it was only on because we were just arriving home and needed to see to get our sleepy children inside.
The year before last I was pregnant with Sophie and, well, was a bit low on energy. And does a two-year old know what she’s missing? I think not. The year before that Bella was only a baby and I just didn’t see the point of dressing her up and hauling her around the neighborhood to get candy that Dom and I didn’t really need to eat. We had a nice birthday dinner and then handed out candy and ate the leftovers. In our first year of marriage, pregnant with Bella, we handed out candy and ate some frozen pizzas as I valiantly battled nausea. We had Dom’s birthday dinner another night.
But next ear. Maybe next year I’ll get my act together. I have a vision of Bella as Cinderella, Sophie as a mouse and Ben as a pumpkin. Wouldn’t that be cute? While I think Bella is old enough that she’d enjoy the dressing up, I don’t think she really understands Halloween and I doubt she’ll be upset that Mama didn’t make her a costume.