My husband loves to count things: geese in a field, pitches thrown by Cubs starting pitchers, it matters not. One year he resolved to count our trick-or-treaters. By the truckloads of candy we were dispensing annually, we guessed about 800. But around 7 p.m., as yet another mob of kids came up the walk, my husband murmured, “Believe it or not, this guy is number 1,000.” We showered him with extra candy.
We live in a neighborhood of single-family homes surrounded by blocks of large apartment buildings, and I gather word has gotten around. Homeowners go out of their way to decorate. Cars pull up on our streets, unloading squadrons of small persons clutching plastic pumpkins and pillowcases to catch the loot.
Some Christians view Halloween with a certain suspicion. Catholic schools draw the line at weapons and terrifying masks, or they may also ask parents to send children dressed up as saints. I applaud any way to get our kids learning about the saints, but my own experience has also convinced me that as Catholics we can celebrate Halloween with gusto. (Let’s just say no, though, to the “sexy” costumes that some parents inexplicably purchase for their kids.)
The holiday, after all, swims in Christian origins. Halloween precedes the church’s feast of All Saints on November 1 (known also as All Hallows), taking its name from a shortened form of “All Hallow’s Eve.” Next, on November 2, Catholics celebrate the feast of All Souls, to pray for all the faithful departed.
Dominican Father Augustine Thompson writes that our U.S. celebration of Halloween, dating to the 1800s, combines two ethnic customs: Irish Catholics didn’t want those in hell to feel forgotten during the November feasts, remembering them on October 31 by banging pots and pans; the Irish also get credit for the jack o’ lantern. The French on All Souls performed their spooky danse macabre, a costumed portrayal of Death leading folk from all walks of life into the grave. Dating from the bubonic plague in the 14th century, it reminded everyone that death could be just around the corner.
On Halloween we make fun of death. We answer the door to find zombies and ghosts, vampires and villains, as well as their arch-enemies such as Batman or Harry Potter. The Christian origins of Halloween hand us a wonderful lens with which to view this holiday: We Christians believe that Christ conquered death once and for all. We even say that we’re baptized “into his death”—we’ve died with him. Christ challenges us to see that death holds no real power over us, because he has already beaten it.
I might find this “no fear” attitude somewhat challenging if I were diagnosed with cancer tomorrow. But on Halloween we try it on for size: We laugh at death, we know it holds no power over us. We confront the ultimate tragedy with a night of comedy, catering it with M&Ms and Tootsie Rolls and SweetTarts.
And when else do we have the opportunity to practice the Christian virtue of hospitality with dozens (or hundreds) of strangers who come ringing the doorbell? To applaud the creativity of the kid who dresses as an IRS agent, wearing his dad’s trenchcoat and carting around a briefcase to hold his candy?
Want to guess how many kids came by our house last year? 1,516. Time to dig out the fog machine and unearth that Halloween CD featuring “Monster Mash” and the theme from Jaws. Stop by if you dare.
By Catherine O’Connell-Cahill, from the pages of At Home with Our Faith, Claretian Publications’ print newsletter for parents on nurturing spirituality in the home. Winner of the Best in Class award in 2013 from the Associated Church Press, as well as a First Place General Excellence award from the Catholic Press Association for the past four years running. Here’s a sample issue.
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