Why Halloween is Catholic

Yesterday we decorated for Halloween, We went to the the local Grocery Outlet where jumbo pumpkins were just 3.99 and got the biggest pumpkins we could fish out of the bins. I am all for a wonderful pumpkin patch experience but I would rather spend my money at the farm buying organic produce to nourish our bodies rather than pay $0.59/lb. for a pumpkin we will just throw away. It does not have to be an ethically-raised, pesticide and hormone free, free-range pumpkin to sit on my porch and rot.

But all budgeting aside the real focus of this post is that this year is the first year I have felt it important to decorate for Halloween. It is not just Halloween but also All Saints Day and All Souls Day we are decorating for. But this year I am allowing a little more of the spooky and the macabre in our decorations.

I have been doing quite a bit of reading the past few months on the traditional Catholic customs surrounding All Hallows Eve and All Saints Day. The result of all that research is the conclusion that a healthy acknowledgment of death, as well as a firm confidence in the happiness of heaven and the protection of the angels are good things. All Hallows Eve is Catholic. It is not pagan. In our house we have always celebrated on All Saints Day with costumes and a party. I am not saying that should not be done. All Saints Day is the main event afterall. But Halloween customs such as going door-to-door for candy dressed up in costumes can be a good thing too and have their roots in catholic customs. I am allowing the children to trick or treat this year and they may go dressed as saints, doctors, astronauts, princesses or even Catrinas (a la Mexican Day of the Dead). But they may not go as happy little green witches, immodestly dressed anything,  psycho killers or anything else that glorifies evil or downplays its existence. There is a big difference between acknowledging and even poking fun at death a bit and glorifying evil. And the condition for getting all that candy is that they pray for those who give it to them including their dead relatives.

The Halloween customs we have in the US are a wonderful and rich combination of Irish, French, Spanish, and English customs. What we have now is a uniquely American day but a very Catholic American day. The idea that the whole thing is merely a pagan holiday is something, oddly enough, made up by protestants who were uncomfortable with Catholicism and a sacramental view of the world.  That is not to say I do not believe that pagan people do bad things on Halloween. I am the first to agree that Halloween has become a very disgusting excuse for all things perverse. But those who wish to behave badly will always find an excuse.  I think the issue is more historically complex and nuanced.  I want to take back Halloween as the vigil before All Saints Day. It is a perfect time to pray for the dead, to acknowledge the reality of evil and of death, to bolster the confidence of my children in the protection of the saving grace of God that they enjoy as children of God, and though as a vigil it should be somewhat penitential, it is a perfect time to have a bit of fun in the cool autumn night and to reflect on the seasons and the happiness we have in the saints in heaven.