Friday, October 31, 2014

Happy Halloween

It was fun to walk over to our school’s “Trunk or Treat” event last Friday! There were rows and rows of cars whose open trunks were filled with candy.  People were in clever costumes, and the cars were decorated in all sorts of ways. Some vehicles were spooky.  One person’s trunk was decorated according to the theme of the movie “Frozen.”    Someone even turned her car into a pirate ship! It was clear that the children who took part in “Trunk or Treat” had a great time!

We all know that kids love Halloween.  They love to dress up, eat candy, and spend time with their friends.   It is a popular holiday for them (and for many adults as well).   Additionally – and this is something we don’t think about a lot - it is also a golden opportunity to assist your kids to make connections to the Faith.  

Halloween as you know has Christian roots.  At one time, as early as 800 B.C., the ancient Celtic tribes who lived in Ireland, Scotland, Wales and Brittany celebrated the beginning of the new year and the coming of winter on November 1. On the night before the new year these pagan peoples celebrated the festival of “Samhain,” or “lord of the Dead.”  During this festival, Celts believed that the souls of the dead, ghosts, goblins and witches returned to mingle with the living.  In order to scare away the evil spirits, people wore masks and lit bonfires.  When the Romans conquered the Celts, they added their own traditions to the Samhain festival, such as making centerpieces out of apples, bobbing for apples and making apple cider; they did this in honor of Pomona, whom they considered the goddess of the orchards. 

In 835 AD, Pope Gregory IV guided this pagan holiday in a Christian direction.  He moved the celebration for all the martyrs (later all saints) from May 13 to November 1.  The night before became known as All Hallows Even or “holy evening.”  Eventually the name was shortened to the current “Halloween.”  The purpose of “All Saints Day” as well as “All Souls Day” (November 2) is to remember those who have died, whether they are officially recognized by the Church as saints or not. 

The Church throughout the centuries has been very adept at taking pagan events or symbols and Christianizing them by reinterpreting their meaning in the light of the Gospel. In Rome, for example, the famous building known as the Pantheon is today a Christian church devoted to all the saints (or more specifically to St. Mary and the martyrs); at one time it was a pagan temple dedicated to ‘all the Roman gods.’

In this spirit, the best way that we can celebrate Halloween is to see the Christian meaning of it by helping children to connect it to the two feast days of the Church that follow.  

As you know it is natural for people to want to explore the supernatural and the spiritual
world.  For example, I love to visit Gettysburg, and each time that I visit I see that there are more and more ghost tours that take place in the streets of the town in the evening.  One can see small groups led by lantern-wielding guides all over town when it gets dark.  Many people believe that the town and battlefield are haunted.   

Another example of people’s fascination with the supernatural is the movie out now called “Ouija.”  The “Ouija” board is an instrument under the guise of a simple board game through which people are able to contact spirits.  In the movie the protagonists are able to contact dead people.  

When I was a child I did not really know that there was anything wrong with the Ouija board, until one day when my father made this clear to all of us by throwing the game into our fireplace to be engulfed by flames!   

People are curious about the spirit world and life after death.  It is good to ask questions about these things.  And the Church has answers for us about them! 

What is wrong with the Ouija board for example? The problem is that it is a vehicle that opens us to supernatural sources that are evil.  The Ouija board, tarot cards, palm readers, fortunetellers and psychics are all examples of the “occult.”  The “occult” refers to anything that claims to give us secret knowledge from supernatural sources other than God. The First Commandment forbids us from putting our trust in spirits other than God and from placing our faith in, and entrusting our future to, something that is not of God.

What about ghosts? Does the Church believe in ghosts?  If you're wondering whether spiritual souls live on after the body dies, the answer is yes.  “Ghosts” could be souls in Purgatory (a place of purification and suffering where a soul dwells before it arrives in Heaven), or they could be evil spirits.
Many Christians do not celebrate Halloween because it has pagan origins and because some of the symbols associated with it have evil connotations.  But once again if we try to see this secular holiday with a Christian meaning, notably by interpreting it through the lens of the communion of saints, All Saints Day or All Souls Day, then our families will have many reasons to celebrate.  With this in mind, I wish you a “Happy Halloween!”  

1 comment: