Halloween seems to mean many more things than one holiday is supposed to. For some men, it means an excuse to hide out in the front yard to startle little, candy-seeking children. For some women, it means an excuse to make as scantily-clad an appearance at a party as they ever made at South Padre Island. For most, it seems, Halloween simply means an excuse to dress up and collect goodies at various locations, or to get together with friends for a good time.
As much fun as it is, the holiday presents a particular dilemma for people of any religion that adheres to a clear distinction between good and evil. I am a practicing Christian who takes the words of the Bible seriously, where it clearly states not to delight in evil or embrace darkness in any way. At the risk of sounding melodramatic, I think that those with similar beliefs, Christian or not, need to evaluate whether or not the celebration of Halloween is compatible with those beliefs. The day’s festivities have roots further back than most people look amidst their innocent celebration, in the occult.
On the night of October 31 two millennia ago, Western European Celts celebrated the festival of Samhain. The festival heralded their new year, beginning November 1. In addition, it celebrated the merging of the realms of the living and dead that supposedly accompanied the changing year. The Celts believed that ghosts walked among them that evening, and their priests, the Druids, prophesied the future at that time.
From there, it’s easy to see where we get our tradition of glorifying scary things on Halloween. However, tradition or not, is it really okay to take one day out of the year and amplify evil, while eschewing it for the other 364?
I grew up with an agnostic father from the southern United States, and a Catholic-turned-Protestant mother from the Philippines, where November 1 is celebrated as All Saints’ Day. In that country, the day is mostly a time to remember loved ones who have passed away. My mother wasn’t put off by American Halloween traditions, though, and faithfully took my older sister, younger brother and me on an annual trick-or-treat. We loved it. To open the night, we attended the local church’s annual “Fall Fun Festival,” an alternative to trick-or-treating (obviously, we didn’t make it just an alternative). We played games to win candy until it was time for the real fun to begin. We were going door to door!
I remember the exhilarating feeling of creeping along dark streets — near Mom, of course — and choosing the most elaborately decorated house at which make our plea for sweets. We knocked on the door, hearts pounding with anticipation. The door swung slowly open, and we posed in our irresistibly cute costumes, shouting, “Trick or treat!” After walking on, making a few elated or disparaging comments about the quantity and type of candy we had received from that house, we searched out another one to beleaguer.
So that you can’t accuse me of being a fun-hater, I note that that is a memory I treasure. Nonetheless, though my siblings and I chose admittedly harmless alter-egos, such as angels or characters from Aladdin, we were furthering the fear-mongering, and, at the risk of sounding melodramatic again, evil-mongering of Halloween.
That leaves us with two questions: Is the forgoing of such sweet memories worth crossing religious boundaries? What are those boundaries?
I hold that if you believe evil is legitimately bad, ideally, your every choice should reflect that belief. It’s much more difficult to overcome the temptation to gossip about a friend who trusts you or to lust after your married coworker than it is to choose not to celebrate Halloween. Though it’s unlikely that everyone is looking over your shoulder, waiting to see if you abide by your faith in every single little decision, many will notice religious inconsistencies. If you take the doctrine of your religion seriously and literally, you may find there’s no room for compromise.
Carrying that through to its logical conclusion, I think substitutes for trick-or-treating, such as the “Fall Fun Festival,” should go as well. Essentially, you’re still celebrating the same day. You’re just celebrating it in a safer, controlled environment.
Not yet being a parent, I can only imagine the different issues you might run into when explaining your Halloweenless-ness to your children. It may be strange to them, not to mention their friends, that you and your family do not celebrate a day so ingrained into American holiday culture. However, if you have a sound reason, and the children know that reason, they can give an explanation that will certainly make them stand out. And that’s a valuable virtue in good-and-evil religions, isn’t it?
In the same way that you won’t celebrate Hanukkah if you’re not Jewish, or let your child attend a Ramadan celebration if you’re not Muslim, it only makes sense for you not to participate in Halloween if you cannot reconcile it to your faith. Yes, you may have to sacrifice some good ol’ pumpkin-patch memories, and certainly a bag of candy or two, but in my opinion, memories just as wonderful can be made at countless other times and in countless other places.
Of course, there’s no need to be legalistic about the whole thing: “Mom, Billy talked about trick-or-treating at school today! You said we shouldn’t ever mention Halloween!” Halloween is an obvious fixture in American culture. The point is that consistency is more important than, well, costumes and candy corn and candlelight. Just because something exists on a large scale doesn’t mean we have to embrace it. Just because we don’t embrace it doesn’t mean we’re being snobs. When it comes down to issues of right and wrong, cultural conformity is a moot point. Think about it. Re-evaluate the $50 you were going to spend on that perfect costume. Pause before you put a Wal-Mart bag in your child’s hand and walk her around the neighborhood. If your beliefs are worth living by, they’re worth applying not only to life’s generalities, but life’s details; every day, including October 31.