Sunday, October 31, 2010

Happy Halloween!

A great article. I love Halloween. I wish people would get over their puritanical fears. To quote:
Some years ago Fr. Augustine Thompson, O.P. laid out a pretty convincing case that in spite of what we may have been told, Halloween never was a pagan holiday. It’s true the ancient Celts had a minor holiday on October 31st, but they had a minor holiday on the last day of every month.

There was nothing special about the last evening of October –certainly no widespread pagan or cultic observance- until Pope Gregory III moved All Saints Day to November 1st – which made the previous evening a vigil feast: All Hallow’s Eve.

The macabre costumes we associate with Halloween don’t come from the ancient Celts at all, but from France, where the observance of All Souls day began as a practice of the monastery at Cluny and eventually spread to the rest of the Church.  The French observed the day with special masses and costumes.

Sometime during the late Medieval period, when survivors of the numerous outbreaks of the plague became fascinated by their own mortality and often portrayed ghostly skeletons in the “danse macabre,” the costumes began to reflect that interest.

Fr. Thompson takes the charming view that “Halloween” as we know it is uniquely American. He thinks it came about as a result of the mingling of the French Catholic observance of All Souls Day (from which we get the costumes and the ghosts and skeletons) and the English Protestant observance of Guy Fawkes’ day (from which trick-or- treating comes).

So one line of reasoning goes: Halloween is not pagan or satanic in origin, it’s just good fun, and an opportunity to bond with friends and neighbors.
 Here is some humor from John Zmirak:
Of course, there are practical issues in marking this most solemn and Catholic holiday. Some pious folk insist on dressing their children only as saints or angels. This works very well for girls up to the age of ten and boys too young to pronounce the word "lame." It's cute for parents to doll their children up as friars like St. Francis or nuns like St. Therese, but the kids know perfectly well they're being cheated: This holiday, the night before the Feast of All Saints, has always been our way of confronting the eerie, appalling fact of death -- the uncertainty of our individual fates, our powerlessness before the scythe that cuts down the just and unjust alike. We want -- we need -- to face these fears, to play on the brink of the abyss, to shudder in "haunted" houses and whistle by the graveyard. The next day, the actual feast day, we should go to Mass and honor the saints -- and maybe go to a graveyard, as they do in Catholic Louisiana, to clean up and decorate the place. But skipping the horror and jumping straight to the glory creates the same kind of empty feeling Shakespeare had, and tried to fill with Hamlet.

Now, I'm very much in agreement that two-year-old children should not be dressed as Satan. For one thing, it's a little bit too realistic. Indeed, the fallenness of children, which Augustine bemoaned in his Confessions, is so evident to everyone that garbing the little tykes in the robes of absolute evil seems to overstress the point. Nor do we wish to trivialize the serious, deadly purpose of our infernal enemy -- dragging each of us screaming to Hell. If you're feeling puckish, it's in much better taste to dress up your kids as Osama bin Laden, Annibale Bugnini, or some other of the Evil One's lesser minions. If you must dress your boys as saints, choose military martyrs, canonized crusaders, or patriarchs from the Old Testament. One suggestion I made as editor of the Feasts and Seasons section of Faith & Family magazine was this: Dress up your daughters as early Roman martyrs, like Agnes and Agatha, and your sons as the Roman soldiers, gladiators, and lions that sent them to heaven. Stock up on lots of fake blood for the girls' machine-washable tunics, and let the games begin! (Alas, this idea never saw print.)


P. M. Doolan said...

I think it is strange to claim that the last day of October was not a special day for Celts. My Irish mother, now in her late eighties, raised me with the common Irish belif that November 1st is the first day of winter, and, consequently, Halloween marks the final day of the passing year. This is still a very commonly held belief today.

The Bones said...

Bugnini! Now that is scary!

"Mummy! It's a liturgical monster!"

Julygirl said...

The real scary thing about Halloween is all that candy!

Aron said...

I am rather pleased to find this article! I have always enjoyed Hallowe'en, though not the, but that's a minor trifle. I have long resented being told by some that by indulging in Hallowe'en fun I am somehow worshiping Satan. Last time I checked worship involved an active intent of will, and therefore one cannot "accidentally worship the devil" anymore than one can accidentally worship the Lord. Anyway...close rant. Since the recession I have worked for DQ, and last night being Hallowe'en, I threw on a cloak and Jacobite jabot and "had at 'er," so to speak, at work. People were most amused, esp. customers at the drive-through.Incidentally, does anyone know when we stopped spelling "Hallowe'en" with the apostrophe? That's how I was taught to spell it in school, and I remember (now with astonishment!) how my teacher explained why that was the case, including a short lesson about the Christian nature of the evening. i don't think that happens anymore...
~Aron <><