The green eyes locked with mine in a steady gaze.
“As a witch,” she said, “I really hate Halloween.”
I looked at her in surprise. Emma was a classmate in my religious studies course, and an ardent Wiccan – a modern pagan. While I didn’t share her beliefs, I appreciated her honesty in our discussions about various faiths, including Catholicism.
“I thought that Halloween coincided with an ancient festival you celebrated,” I replied.
Emma sighed. “Yes, but you’d never know it with the ridiculous costumes people wear.” She cocked her head. “You’re a Catholic. What do you think of Halloween?”
I wanted to quip that I endorsed any holiday promoting chocolate consumption, but Emma’s question gave me pause.
Actually, I didn’t quite know what to think of Halloween.
As a celebration, it’s a tangled web of Christian, Celtic, and commercial threads, strung across our lawns every year in orange and black. Bats and spiders lurk in every corner. Pumpkins and candy abound. Costumes – from sinister to superhero – conceal our identity for a fleeting hour or two.
Christians are often conflicted in their views of Halloween. Some shun the revelry as satanic or offer sanitized alternatives, such as harvest gatherings. Others shrug, don a mask, and simply join the fun – perhaps with a sense of unease, wondering if Jesus would celebrate Halloween.
He just might, according to Father Steve Grunow.
“The true substance of Halloween belongs to the Church,” says Father Grunow, CEO of Bishop Robert Barron’s Word on Fire ministry. “Halloween (or ‘All Hallows Eve’) is the festive precursor to the celebration of the Church’s public commemoration of All Saints Day.”
“Every Halloween, these Christian communities go running to their sanctuaries to escape devil worship in the form of 5-year-olds dressed up as Power Rangers. No scheme of the devil could be more insidious than this.” — author David Valentine
As such, Halloween is a kind of parallel to Mardi Gras – a night of fun before a solemn liturgical feast.
But where do vampires and zombies fit in the martyrology?
“The descent of Halloween into the madness of an annual fright fest is a relatively recent development,” notes Father Grunow. “I would draw a distinction between the violent, macabre imagery that characterizes the modern appropriation of Halloween as a kind of secular celebration and the more traditional customs that are characteristic of a Catholic cultural ethos.”
By relinquishing this holiday, Christians isolate themselves from the very world to which they are called to witness.
“Somewhere along the way, a significant population of the Church decided Halloween was evil,” observes author David Valentine. “Every Halloween, these Christian communities go running to their sanctuaries to escape devil worship in the form of 5-year-olds dressed up as Power Rangers. No scheme of the devil could be more insidious than this.”
Instead, Valentine asserts, we should embrace the holiday and those who celebrate it.
“What if the Church stopped being afraid of the world on Halloween and began to engage it?” Valentine asks. “Reconsider how you can use the opportunities the holiday provides to reach others. If nothing else, Halloween is a day designed by our culture to (interact) with our neighbors.”
Father Grunow agrees. “Halloween should not be a day when our churches go dark and Christians retreat into the shadows, but when we fill the darkness with Christ’s light and go out into the culture, inviting everyone to the prepare for the festival of the saints with all the joy we can muster.”
Such joy does not minimize or deny the reality of evil, which the more ghoulish trappings of Halloween attempt to address.
“Yes, look honestly at sin and death,” Father Grunow affirms. “Know about the lure and deceptions of fallen, spiritual powers. Realize that greater than all the fallen powers of heaven and earth is the power of God in Christ…. His love is stronger than death.”
And that blessed assurance is sweeter than any Halloween candy.