Halloween gives us choices. Some use it as a time to experiment into the dark side of human existence. I don’t think that is what it was originally intended for and it would be wise for anyone to avoid bringing any negative thoughts and practices into their life. I have fond memories of Halloween from my childhood. It can be time of family, friends and fun. Others use it for property destruction and, well, even worse, more lasting things. Like everything else in life, we are given a choice of how to participate in Halloween. Let us pray that all those in our community chose joy, love and peace.
It seems like Halloween comes earlier each year. Driving home from a meeting at church last month, I was surprised to see how many Halloween lights and decorations were already up in our neighborhood. I also see a rise in the number of harvest festivals going on at various churches. It seems Halloween is out; Harvest is the new thing, probably because of genuine concerns about evil worship and Halloween. Theologically and historically, the harvest festival was a pagan celebration. Churches cannot side-step difficult questions simply by replacing the name. We still must acknowledge the history of pagan celebrations and how they relate to our modern Church calendar.
Syncretism is the key here, the merging or superseding of a previous religious meaning with a new or “correct” one. St. Patrick participated in syncretism when he brought Christianity to Ireland. He found particular religious (pagan) activities and supplanted them with Christian practices, symbols and beliefs. Syncretism is why we celebrate the birth of Jesus on December 25th. Someone decided it would be fitting to remove the (Roman) celebration of new light and replace it with celebration for the birth of Christ – the Light of the Word.
All Hallows’ Eve appears to be a Christian construction to celebrate a three day period with All Saints’ Day in the middle followed by All Souls’ Day. Bear in mind, historical records and facts are murky at best. Some believe All Hallows’ was purely a Christian invention, others say it was syncretistic for the pagan harvest festival.
Here’s my take. Syncretism is a part of our history and practice to this day. We must give thanks for the harvest God has provided. We should remember those we love but see no longer, those who died defending our country, and for patriotic men and women who formed our great nation. It helps us to mourn their loss, celebrate the joys of heaven, and remember what they meant to us individually and collectively. In particular, remembering the lives of the saints and martyrs helps us in our walk with Jesus. Likewise, we can remember the lives of loved ones and try to live more like they did. We can also remember the forefathers and mothers of our country and participate in civic life like they did.
Regardless of our take on Halloween, my 7 year old doesn’t get caught up on theological principles of syncretism. He likes to wear a costume, walk around the neighborhood, and eat candy – just like I did, like my father did, and, perhaps as George Washington did when he was a child. It’s hard to imagine St. Francis dressing up as a fireman and saying trick or treat, but maybe? Halloween costumes probably postdated them; nevertheless, Francis and George would want us to make family traditions and share ourselves with our neighbors.
- Fr. Dave