‘Halloween fun trivialises evil’ say Christians
Halloween spending in Britain this year will break all records. But there are still some, many of them devout Christians, who refuse to take part. Does the partying have sinister undertones?
In Christianity, the evening of Halloween on 31 October marks All Saints’ Day (1 November), when the saints, known or unknown, are celebrated; the following day commemorates the dead who have not yet been purified and reached Heaven. All sounds quite well-meaning, doesn’t it?
But if you look beyond Christianity, there are clues as to why some people have moral objections to Halloween. Over time, All Saints’ Day has merged with a festival called Samhain to form Halloween. Samhain is a Gaelic festival, when the dead supposedly mingle with the living. Many Christians are uneasy with Halloween, as it treats death and evil with such light-hearted jollity. In some Wiccan rituals, the spirits of the dead are invited to attend the festivities.
Halloween is big business. It is thought that around £5bn is spent on the festival in the United States, where it has arguably overtaken Easter to become the second biggest ‘religious’ celebration among young people. In Britain, the recent rise of Halloween has been enormous. Parents spend around £300m per year on the festival, while in 2001 that figure was just £12m.
As with the traditional ‘holy days’ of Christmas and Easter, there is consternation among both religious and non-religious people that, as they see it, our holidays are now just festivals of acquisitive greed.
Association with the dead has long been mistrusted by Christians, as it is linked with witchcraft. The book of Deuteronomy avers ‘There shall not be found among you any one that useth divination, or an observer of times, or an enchanter, or a witch.’
And while few people in the West believe in witchcraft anymore, many parents are still wary of familiarising their children with the idea of evil. You can still believe in evil and want your children to take it seriously, even if you don’t believe in malevolent spirits. Similar reasoning often makes people reluctant to watch horror films: get too familiar with evil, and you yourself might become bad.
Halloween is a dreadful festival, say sceptics. It combines rampant commercialism and a sinister respect for evil. Death is a serious subject but dressing up as dead bodies treats it with undue frivolity. Accepting the presence of evil in the world is a very dangerous precedent to set.
That’s taking things far too seriously, say those who plan on celebrating Halloween. There is nothing ‘evil’ about dressing up as a vampire or even a witch. Objections to Halloween on a moral basis are just superstitious nonsense. And there is nothing shameful or wrong in talking about death. It is part of the human experience, and Halloween is a good time to talk to young children about mortality.
- How important is it to talk to children about unpleasant subjects?
- Is Halloween too commercialised?
- Think of as many festivals or holidays as you can, and group them into religious ones and non-religious ones. Which do you think are more important?
- Research one culture and find out how the theme of death is treated traditionally.
Some People Say...
“Halloween’s just a bit of fun.”
What do you think?
Q & A
- I don’t celebrate Halloween. Why does this matter?
- You may not celebrate it yourself, but there’s a good chance that someone will come knocking on your door trick or treating you on Halloween night — so be prepared! And it is interesting to reflect on why Halloween has such a draw for some people. After all, almost everyone has a fascination with death.
- Is Halloween just a Western thing?
- As it originates from a mixture of Christian and Celtic belief, it is still mainly a Western thing. But in a globalised world where the United States has such cultural power, Halloween is now celebrated in almost every developed country. Since the late 1990s countries from Germany to Japan to China have all engaged in Halloween celebrations.
- The name is a contraction of ‘All Hallows’ Eve’. In Christian liturgy it is the evening before — or ‘vigil’ for — All Hallows or All Saints Day; the following day is All Souls Day.
- In Celtic tradition, Samhain is the start of winter, and is celebrated rather like the autumn equinox; it is one of four seasonal festivals, the others being Beltane, Imbolc and Lughnasadh.
- Wicca is a modern pagan, witchcraft religion that was developed in England in the first half of the 20th century. There are thought to be around 800,000 Wiccans in the world.
- The fifth book of the Bible: the five make up the Jewish Torah — the Law of Moses. The other four are Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers.
- Fear of witchcraft has largely disappeared in the West, but in other parts of the world it is still an issue. In 2012 Saudi Arabia executed a man called Muree bin Ali bin Issa al-Asiri for ‘witchcraft and sorcery’. He was said to be in possession of witchcraft-related books and talismans.