I can’t count the times I’ve heard things like “I don’t get into all that Halloween” said with a shudder and an air of disapproval. I am silenced as I don’t want to be seen as some heathen goats should be wary of come the end of October. I love Halloween. I don’t think Halloween gets a fair shake and I think it’s high time people stop judging this book by it’s cover and dig a little deeper into the who’s, whens and whys of this holiday we call Halloween.
Halloween is thought to be a pagan holiday stemming from the harvest celebrations of ancient Celtics. They believed the changing seasons blurring the lines between the worlds allowed spirits to slip through; masks were worn and lanterns (turnips rather than pumpkins) were lit to ward off evil spirits. Ward off , not pay homage to. So, even if this were the end of Halloween it’s portrayal as a celebration of evil is inaccurate. Halloween is a mish-mash of cultural and historical traditions.
November 1st is All Saints Day, a celebration and remembrance of all the saints in heaven (its vigil on October first-All Hallows Eve or e’en in the contraction of evening). Originally celebrated on May 13th until 741 when it was changed to coincide with the dedication of a chapel by the same name. November 2nd is All Souls Day- remembering all our brothers and sisters in Christ who have gone before us. Irish peasants came to the idea that the souls in Hell may become irate that there was no day for them so they would bang pots and pans to discourage mischievous spirits. Though not promoted or acknowledged by the Church it became a tradition in the culture. Yet we still haven’t arrived at Halloween as we know it today.
In 14th and 15th century France the Bubonic plague was devastating the population and naturally citizens became more concerned with the after-life. More masses were said on All Souls Day and artistic representations of death abounded reminding people of their own mortality. Painted on the walls of cemeteries the “Dance of Death” depicted death leading knights, ladies, clergy, lepers and peasants all to the tomb. The French would dress in the garb of various stages of life on All Souls Day. The warding off of spirits and the costumes likely became intermingled in British colonies in the 1700’s when French and Irish Catholics began to intermarry. The Irish focus on Hell gave the French masquerade an even more macabre twist.
Trick-or-Treating likely arose from the English holiday of Guy Fawkes Day. During the penal periods of 1500-1700’s in England, Catholics had no legal rights. Guy Fawkes was foiled in a rebellious attempt to blow up parliament. On Nov. 5 English revelers would “celebrate” Guy Fawkes by donning masks and going to homes of local Catholics in the night demanding drink and cakes. This came to America along with the settlers but by the American Revolution was forgotten. Trick-or-Treating however was too much fun to give up, it was moved to October 31st and no longer limited to Catholics. Halloween was a fixture in the US by the 1800’s with the addition of all things creepy: jack o’ lanterns, witches, etc added along the way thanks to greeting card companies.
Halloween is the acknowledgement of the reality of evil and our own mortality. The awareness that there is a world in which angels and demons contend for the souls of men. The Prince of Lies grows in power by convincing others he doesn’t exist and on Halloween he is mocked by children in ridiculous costumes. Maybe it’s time we begin looking at Halloween as a celebration of our triumph over evil.
Halloween’s ghosts, ghouls and merry making make it ripe for the picking of evil things to be avoided. Meanwhile the seven deadly sins subtly infiltrate our daily lives and every other holiday. Think about Valentines Day’s lustful overtones, the gluttony of Thanksgiving and the greed and envy that threaten every Christmas. It almost seems superfluous to make Halloween a target in the war on evil when you turn on the TV or computer everyday. As my 4 year old picked up on just the other day in her first encounter with a Justin Beiber video “Ughh I just want Thriller. There are no hoochiemamas in it, just zombies”.