Halloween fun trivialises evil, say Christians

Happy haunting! Trick-or-treating first became widespread in the USA in the 1930s.

But does it? For most of us, Halloween is a time of fun and fancy dress, but the Church of England says it is an “uneasy celebration of the dark side of life”. Is something sinister going on?

Tonight, candlelit pumpkins will loom from windows. Children will bustle down the streets, dressed as witches, ghosts, goblins and other creepy creatures.

But not everyone will join in the fun. Across the world, thousands of Christians still reject Halloween as an unholy, if not Satanic, celebration.

It may seem surprising, then, that the origins of Halloween are closely tied to two Christian festivals. All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day immediately follow their unholy twin on 1 and 2 November. On these days, Christians venerate the saints and pray for the lost souls in purgatory who have not yet reached heaven.

Over time, All Saints’ Day merged with Samhain (a Gaelic festival when the dead mingle with the living) to become the Halloween we celebrate today — with some added chocolate and consumerism.

Yet the tensions between Christianity and Halloween are far from ancient. Just last year, the Church of England sent out leaflets discouraging families from dressing up their children as ghosts and ghouls.

“As Christians, we are rightly uneasy about the celebration of the dark side of life,” said Mary Hawes, the Church’s national children and youth adviser.

Inside, the leaflet suggested that “groups of children dressed in hero costumes, along with responsible adults, [could] take treats to the houses in the community, including a card with a simple illustration and Bible verse”.

The pack also called for “saints’ parties” at which children dress as saints from Christian history and recount their good deeds (presumably not including their grisly martyrdoms).

But does Halloween really trivialise evil?

Columnist and comedian David Mitchell thinks the Church has missed the point. In fact, he doesn’t think Halloween is meant to be scary at all.

“It’s about the big in-joke of affecting spookiness,” he wrote in The Guardian. “We take bad, frightening or horrific things and treat them as if they’re good because it’s a funny thing to do.” Is he right?

Everyday evil?

No, 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. We should not make light of the presence of evil in the world. It is a sign of our morally bankrupt times.

But David Mitchell scoffs at this argument. For him, Halloween is “not a step into genuine darkness at all. It relies completely on a shared moral compass”. We are taking the darkest, most horrific fears that lurk in the shadows and bringing them out into the light in a goofy, exaggerated festival of fun. It’s healthy and, if anything, shows the harmless good in us.

You Decide

  1. Why do we like being scared?
  2. Does evil exist?

Activities

  1. Design your own Halloween costume. Make sure it’s spooky!
  2. Write a short ghost story set in ancient Scotland or Ireland, as Halloween is just getting started.

Some People Say...

“Man produces evil as a bee produces honey.”

William Golding (1911-1993), British novelist

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
The word “Halloween” is a contraction of “All Hallows’ Eve”, the day before All Saints’ Day. The holiday is most widely celebrated in western countries like the USA, Canada, Ireland and the UK, although it has spread across the globe. In Mexico, Día de Muertos is a three-day festival when families gather to pray for their relatives who have died.
What do we not know?
Exactly where the tradition of dressing up for Halloween comes from. Our costumes are thought to have been influenced by folk dress in Celtic-speaking countries, that are linked to ancient Pagan religions. Samhain was celebrated in Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man. The festival marked the end of harvest and the beginning of winter.

Word Watch

Satanic
Devil-worshipping, from the name Satan.
Venerate
Remember with great respect.
Saints
A person who is remembered as exceptionally holy. In the Catholic Church, evidence must be given that the person performed two miracles after their death. This is called intercession of the Blessed.
Purgatory
The Church of England does not believe in purgatory, the place where you go to be purified after your life until you are ready for heaven. It is a Catholic teaching.
Gaelic
People called the Gaels lived in modern Ireland and Scotland.
Consumerism
A society that relies on excessive consumption (buying things).
Grisly martyrdoms
A martyr is someone who dies for their faith. A number of saints, like St Stephen who was stoned to death in 36 AD, died in gruesome ways.
Trivialise
Make light of.
Frivolity
Lack of seriousness.

Subjects

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