Word count: 608
Summary: How we should really celebrate October 31—and by extension, November 1.
In just a few days now, all kinds of random kids will be knocking on your door asking for candy, dressed up as just about anything imaginable. Halloween is a big deal here in the US and probably quite a few other places, as well. But are we celebrating it properly?
To begin with, let’s look at the word itself: Halloween. The first things you think of when hearing the word are probably all kinds of low-grade “decorations” intended to scare the living daylights out of you and yet still inspire some kind of general jollity (I’m all for paradoxes, but that goes a bit far). To be honest, that’s the first thing that comes to my mind, too, though it shouldn’t. The word Halloween comes from “hallowed (holy) evening.” Now what do you think of? Perhaps something more along the lines of Christmas Eve.
Surprising as this is, it’s the proper way to think of Halloween. According to the Roman Catholic liturgical calendar, the following day, November 1st, is the Feast of All Saints. This is actually rather staggering, when you think of it. There are, praise God, thousands of saints. To have one single feast dedicated to every single one of them should be a grand and holy day, indeed! But for most people, November 1st is the day you swap out Halloween decorations for Christmas decorations. Not a single thought that November 1st is the real celebration that October 31st leads up to.
The story of how this disappointing change occurred is certainly one worth telling, but perhaps another time. Suffice to say, nearly everyone has lost an awareness of the liturgical calendar. Even people who are in all other respects very good Christians have fallen for the materialist trap of costume-party Halloween. In my own family, we’ve gone to great lengths to combat the current understanding of Halloween and reinstate the proper one. We’ve decorated our front porch with icons depicting saints of all kinds; we’ve propped up very large laminated saint cards on the front lawn; we’ve dressed up as some of our favorite saints and gone around the neighborhood wishing everyone a “Happy All Saints’ Eve!”; we’ve blasted Vaughn Williams’ arrangement of “For All the Saints” from the open window into the street; we’ve stapled little notes of Bible verses or the true definition of Halloween on every single piece of candy we handed out. No one ever really seemed to understand what we were trying to say.
Now you might say, “I get it, Halloween shouldn’t be a spooky day. But what’s to stop me from dressing up as a favorite fictional character, especially if they’re highly virtuous?” Then I’d say you’re still missing the point. The focus of Halloween is not merely virtue. There have been many people throughout history (both factual and fictional) who showed some virtues but rarely ever talked about God, if at all. The focus of Halloween is the saints who now dwell with God in Heaven; we remember and honor them, and beseech them to ask God to have mercy on our souls. It’s the same thing we do all year round, with all the saints’ feast days spread out—but Halloween, November 1st, is the day when we celebrate them all at once! Overwhelming? Good, it should be.
This year, don’t be spooky—spread the good news. And if I caught you unprepared, there’s always next year, and all the years after that. Put a little more thought and effort into your celebration, and center it around God and the Church. After all, that’s how the celebration began. It’s only fitting that we continue in the tradition.