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In the days leading up to Halloween, I thought I would put a good word in for old school Halloween with spooky outfits and characters.
But first, a few tidbits about the origins of Halloween.
There is one diehard myth out there that says Halloween was the Church’s attempt to counter the evil effects of Samhaim, the Celtic pagan festival.
While Samhaim was the pre-Christian day marking the start of winter in ancient Ireland, it’s just not true that Catholics felt the need to “baptize” the paganism with something holy.
The resistance to the idea of spooky costumes, including zombies and ghosts, is more rooted in the Protestant uncomfortability with the realm of the dead.
Let’s call it the Dead Zone.
For Protestant Christians, there’s hell and there’s heaven — there is no pre-heaven experience of purgation Catholics call purgatory. Didn’t God command us not to “communicate with the dead”? Yes, in Leviticus 19:31, Leviticus 20:5-8, and Deuteronomy 18:9-14.
Yes, it’s bad. Don’t do it.
But praying to the saints is our right and duty as Christians. And this is where we come to the origins of Halloween.
In the early Church, there were so many martyrs giving their lives for Christ—often groups of them suffering on the same day—that joint commemorations were held to honor them.
During the persecution of Diocletian the number of martyrs became so great (way more than 365) that a separate day could not be assigned to each. So the Church appointed a common day for all saints, the known and the unknown.
Pope Gregory IV then set the feast for the universal Church and made it into a holy day of obligation for all Catholics.
Hallows is an old form of saints. We still say hallowed ground, or holy ground. All Hallow’s Eve, or the Eve before the feast commemorating “all the saints.”
So here are three reasons why it’s okay to dress up not just as actual saints, like St. Francis or St. Therese of Lisieux (which is more than cool as well):
1. Dressing up in scary costumes can mock or at least neutralize evil by exaggerating the qualities that stir up fear. (Not advocating for a blood-soaked costume of an actual serial killer or a card-carrying Satanist, or a truly gory get-up that will make people upchuck. Nor am I saying it’s just dandy for girls to dress like prostitutes or “naughty” French maids.”)
2. Movies, plays, and works of literature sometimes present evil themes to reflect the darker part of the fallen creation. In a similar way, one can dress up and point to these realities in a safe way the dangers of this creation.
This is somewhat analogous to a scary roller-coaster: you get in, you sit down and you take a ride you KNOW might make you scream but can’t actually harm you.
3. Halloween can be framed as a reflection of the Four Last Things: death, judgment, heaven, and hell. By deliberately conjuring images that ordinarily evoke fear, we can laugh at the basic FACT that Jesus Christ killed death by His death.
We reap the benefits in two ways: we do not suffer eternal death in hell and are invited to the glorious happiness of heaven, AND we participate in the divine nature. We gloss over this truth but it is life changing and mind-blowing. It’s right there in 2 Peter 1:4.
We live in a culture that denies death. We say “he passed away” or “she passed,” we dress up our dead in their Sunday best and put make-up on them and we visit them in a corporate parlor room full of flowers.
We look away from it, avert our eyes, keep it far away from our thoughts.
But like the monks of old who would place a human skull on their desk, it’s wise to memento mori, to remember death. In the case of Halloween, we don’t stop there. We remember the victory over death as manifest in the victors whose feast day we celebrate the very next day.
Happy and safe Halloween!
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