Today and tomorrow there will be countless children and—at least here in New Orleans—adults as well, dressed up in costumes mainly drawn from the world of witchcraft and the undead. Zombies are very popular here thanks to our Haitian heritage. They will be walking the streets, going from house to house asking for treats, and, in the case of the adults, hanging out in the bars and restaurants our city is famous for.
We all know that “Halloween” is the Eve of All Hallows’ Day or All Saints ’ Day, November 1. In recent years, Christians of various traditions have decried Halloween as a revival of pagan rituals which threaten to turn us to devil worship, sorcery, and witchcraft. These good folk do not put out decorations or hand out candy to Trick-or-Treaters, and they do not allow their children to participate in such things. And certainly the adults do not dress up and go out into the night to celebrate.
But what is the connection between devils, witches, goblins, and All Saints, and is it pernicious to participate in the revelries of the Eve if one is a believer who honors the Day? It may seem confusing, liturgically, because on Christmas Eve, for example, we celebrate the Feast of the Incarnation, the birth of our Lord, just the same as we do on the morrow. So why change things for All Hallows Eve? Why participate in secular festivities that seem to be the opposite of what All Saints’ Day stands for? Is it somehow sacrilegious to do so? Or is it just a little harmless, old-fashioned fun left over from the pre-Christian traditions of our ancestors?
Perhaps the real question is this: is it pagan and heretical or biblical and orthodox to think there powers of evil out and about, going to and fro, on this earth? Certainly Satan tells God that is just what he has been doing at the beginning of the book of Job. He also knew just where to find Jesus after his baptism, out in the wilderness praying and fasting. Finally, in Revelation 12, we read that war arose in heaven and that St Michael and his angels defeated “the great dragon…that ancient serpent who is called the Devil and Satan,” along with his angels, and they cast them down to the earth. That’s right, the earth, where we live all day every day.
So, given that there are powers of evil out and about, I want to leave you with a final question to reflect on: is it honoring these powers or mocking them to dress up in the outrageous costumes we imagine for them and then run around having fun? It is said the devil cannot stand being laughed at.
Have fun this Halloween.
The image above is “Halloween is Coming” (2009) by Liz West. It is licensed under Creative Commons.