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Yes, Halloween is For Catholics
While the internet can and will find a way to make even the simplest of things debate-worthy, there are a few days each year that stand head and shoulders above the rest in terms of how much contention and division they are capable of stirring up. Halloween is one of them. The debate over whether it is appropriate and moral for Christians and Catholics to participate resurfaces every year during the month of October, overshadowing the joy of the changing seasons and causing even more stress to the mothers spending hours making intricate costumes come to life that run the risk of being rejected the morning of. Amidst the narrative that it is simply a pagan holiday that serves to expose participants to the demonic, it is good to recall that Halloween's history is deeply connected to the Church’s liturgical calendar, and even iconic practices such as trick-or-treating and jack-o'lanterns find their roots in Catholic rituals.
In the 8th century, Pope Gregory III established All Saints' Day, also known as All Hallows' Day, on November 1st to honor the saints–known and unknown–who have attained eternal glory with God in Heaven. The night before All Saints' Day, known as All Hallows' Eve or Hallowmas, eventually morphed into Halloween. Traditionally, this night was a time of vigil and preparation for the upcoming feast, and is one of the few feast days with an attached vigil. Catholics would attend church services, pray for the souls of the departed, and reflect on the lives of the saints.
Trick-or-treating is tied to several customs, such as the idea that dressing up as something frightening would ward off wandering spirits, but it also has ties to the tradition of “souling”. During the Middle Ages on All Souls Day, Catholics would go souling by dressing up in costumes or masks, visiting homes, and offering to pray for the souls of the deceased in exchange for food. Making soul cakes has even resurfaced in recent years as a way to actively engage in liturgical living on All Souls Day. Other classic Halloween symbols also find their root in Catholic tradition. For example, the Irish would prepare for the festivities by carving lanterns from turnips or potatoes to light the way for the souls of the deceased and ward off evil spirits. When they immigrated to America they found that pumpkins were more readily available and easier to carve, giving rise to the modern tradition of pumpkin carving.
There are plenty more examples that highlight the good and holy history of this day, but all of them ultimately serve to prove the same reminder: that it is easy to fall into the black and white temptation of believing that because society is for something, Catholics must automatically be against it. But in doing so we forget that we are, and have been, quite capable of shaping and influencing culture, and many of those influences stand to this day. Neglecting to recall those influences runs the risk of making us overly cautious and scrupulous, which is not how we are called to live. Christ came so that we might have life, and have it more abundantly–not cautiously.
Of course, everyone is entitled to their own preferences, so simply because one can celebrate this holiday in good conscience does not mean they are obligated to. There are certainly poor ways to celebrate this holiday–dressing up in inappropriate costumes, participating in demonic practices, or missing the World Series just to collect one inch Snickers bars. It is not a day when good discernment should go out the window. Yet we cannot live in perpetual fear that enjoying holidays and participating in secular practices opens us up to evil. The devil is not behind every door, even on nights when someone dresses up as him is around every corner. We can rest knowing Halloween, like most holidays, serves as a lively blend of both religious and secular traditions, and is a time for people to come together to celebrate the spooky and the spiritual in creativity, community, and sugar rushes.
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