The rotten side of Halloween

Glory Reitz—Staff Writer

Halloween is an ugly day, and Christians need to stop pretending otherwise. I’ll concede that dressing up is fun, and I can’t complain about the day-after candy sales. Yet, while we call it a “holiday,” Halloween and its seasonal “spirit” is anything but holy.

This isn’t a comfortable topic. Who wants to skip a fun holiday, or turn down an invitation to a haunted house? Perhaps you’re not even a Christian, and you don’t think “personal holiness” applies to you. Though it can be awkward and unpopular, filling yourself with goodness and light lifts your spirit, regardless of where you begin. Halloween brings darkness, and it will drag you down.

According to Nicholas Rogers’ book Halloween: From Pagan Ritual to Party Night, the date seems to be rooted in Roman feasts and the Celtic “Samhain” festival. In Celtic tradition, it was a time of darkness, as supernatural forces spilled from the ground and roamed the countryside. To keep the spirits at bay, Rogers said, the Irish built bonfires and made sacrifices – animal, and possibly human.

In a 2019 Vatican News article, Christopher Wells claims the date for the Catholic church’s intentions as All Hallow’s Eve. It’s a vigil to remember Christians who’ve died and is followed by a day of prayer on Nov. 2 for those in purgatory.

It’s not uncommon for holidays to have mixed cultural and religious histories, and Christians have successfully overwritten pagan holidays before. We celebrate Christ’s birth on the date of two old Roman holidays and his resurrection in place of another. While Christmas and Easter eclipsed the old holidays, celebrating Halloween doesn’t set any Christians apart from the world.

The Catholic church still uses the day to focus on mortality and the end times, but at least in the American culture I’ve seen, such solemn thoughts aren’t on the forefront. Halloween has been a day of fear and death throughout history, from warding off demons with glowing turnips to ketchup-blood on gory costumes. 

When the Bible tells us to dwell on “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable … excellent or praiseworthy” (Phil. 4:8 NIV), I doubt “spooky season” qualifies. Ghouls, witches, zombies, and vampires fill front yards, movies, and Walmart aisles. If we repeatedly expose ourselves to, and celebrate, this kind of darkness, it’s sure to touch our minds and souls.

In another way, the Halloween hype and its yearlong counterparts (horror movies, demon-chasing TV shows, etc.) dull our sensitivity to evil. Around this time of year, I see blatant displays of monsters and black magic in public places, sometimes “cutesy” and sometimes “scary” – depending on your aesthetic, I guess. Either way, our repeated exposure develops an ignorance of truth and the reality of evil.

The normalization of this darkness simultaneously aggravates normal human fear – which everyone lives with – and hardens us against recognizing it, so we can no longer avoid it. This kind of downward spiral affects everyone, not just Christians.

So, what should a Christian be doing on Oct. 31? No matter how many op-eds I write, Americans will continue to hang ghosts and plant tombstones in their front yards. The church as a whole has similar constraints. Christians can’t just force everyone to stop celebrating Halloween. We cannot erase the day or ignore it – but we can write over its darkness.

If you are a Christian, I’d encourage you to treat the day with a little extra prayer. A condemnatory response probably won’t help anyone out a lot, but gently declining to participate may provoke reflection in those around you. Love your neighbors, enjoy and share your candy, and try to keep your mind clean.

Whatever your beliefs, as you select your movie marathons, costumes, and decorations, consider the meaning behind them, and what you celebrate in life.

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