We are well into the season of Autumn, and here in Northern New England you can feel it and see it: cool days, cold nights, and bright flashes of colorful leaves set against deep blue skies. It’s not only the trees that herald the season: the retail stores, with a wide array of ghastly, ghoulish, and gory Halloween accessories on display, evoke plenty of color of their own. Given all that, it’s not too early in the season for a Halloween rant.
Let me hasten to add that I am not anti-Halloween on principle: I have defended the holiday in the past against the spurious charge that it is merely a remnant of our dark, pre-Christian, pagan past. We do need to remember that whatever pagan elements it has picked up and baptized along the way, Halloween is really Christian in origin. It started as part of a celebration of the Communion of Saints, but it is also a way in which believers can mock death and “the principalities, the powers, the world rulers of this present darkness, the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). In making sport of the spawn of Satan we celebrate Christ’s Victory over Death (1 Corinthians 15:55-58) . . . that is, if we truly acknowledge the Lordship of Jesus Christ.
Here, however, is where we start to run into trouble with contemporary Halloween celebrations: even if it is not primarily the product of pre-Christian paganism, what is the role of the holiday in a post-Christian society, a society that no longer acknowledges the Lordship of Christ? I was reminded of the relevance of this question recently when I was in one of the aforementioned retail stores. I overheard a little boy who was admiring the creepy Halloween paraphernalia remark that, in his house, Halloween was by far the most important holiday. This observation was smilingly confirmed by his mother. I had to ask myself, what exactly was this family celebrating? After all, whatever its Christian origin, All Hallow’s Eve is a mere afterthought compared to the great feasts of Easter, Christmas, and Epiphany (and any number of lesser celebrations), observances that go straight to the heart of the Mystery of Christ. Anybody who doesn’t give precedence to those holidays is unlikely to be observing Halloween as any sort of Christian holy day at all.
As Christian belief and observance have declined, Halloween celebrations have become increasingly more elaborate, and correspondingly more macabre.
The little boy’s comment also ties in with something I’ve noticed more and more over the past few decades: as Christian belief and observance have declined, Halloween celebrations have become increasingly more elaborate, and correspondingly more macabre. In years past the emphasis was on the supernatural: ghosts, goblins, witches and demons. Now at least as much attention is paid to simple violence and gore: what does “crime scene” tape have to do with those powers, principalities, and spiritual hosts of wickedness? We have forgotten Christ’s Victory, and so are left with only Death and Corruption, apparently unchallenged. A society that celebrates death and corruption for its own sake is, I submit, a society in deep, deep trouble.
As I said at the outset, I am not against Halloween per se, and I don’t advocate its abolition. I do suggest that we who are Christians observe it in its proper context, including its original function as the prelude to All Saints Day (which is why, after all, it is called “Hallow’s Eve”). You have no doubt heard in recent years calls to “Keep Christ in Christmas” . . . let’s also keep the Hallowed in Halloween.
Featured image: Christ Triumphant over Sin and Death (Salvator Mundi) by Peter Paul Rubens, 1618