Last week, hundreds of thousands of children took part in Halloween activities, were immediately possessed by demons and killed pretty much everybody in Britain. It was kinda brutal. You probably read the tweets (#TrickOrAaargh). Anyway, the worst thing about it was that we had been warned. As every learned, thoughtful follower of Christ has by now been told, the word ‘Halloween’ is a modern corruption of a much older word. The original term is actually “HELL?Oh.Eee!” and, according to Evangelicapedia, describes the terror of those who learn too late that Halloween is no celebration of spooky fun, but the actual date of Satan’s birthday. True story.
I like Halloween. Maybe that’s because I’m an ageing Goth, or maybe it’s because in my day vampires didn’t sparkle, it’s hard to say. But, for whatever reason, I find Halloween’s slightly spooky aesthetic more appealing than reindeer, Easter bunnies or frilly hearts.
If I have one criticism (apart from the obvious fact that it is, like many annual celebrations, cynically used to drive consumerist spending) it’s that Halloween has birthed the profoundly embarrassing phenomenon of ‘light parties’. But hey. I’m a Baptist. If that’s what your conscience dictates, knock yourself out. We can all agree to disagree, yes?
And yet this year again I’ve heard Halloween lovers called ‘Godless’ by one pastor and accused of being a contemporary equivalent of Sadducees (deniers of the spiritual realm) by a prominent Christian writer and preacher. I’d say it makes my blood boil, but I’d just be accused of occultism. So I’ll say that there are some weaknesses in the Halloween-haters’ arguments:
1. Halloween has dark origins
The hardest-working Christian cliché in Autumn is always: “Halloween actually started as…” Duller than a Light Party, this argument is used by pro- and anti-Halloweeners, and it’s almost 100% irrelevant. We still celebrate Christmas despite its Saturnalia origins, use pagan symbols around Easter and cheerfully encourage kids to burn effigies of Guy Fawkes five days after Halloween. If you really think there is much left of the Christian and pagan roots in the hearts of most people celebrating Halloween, you need to pay more attention.
2. Halloween celebrates evil
You may want to sit down before you read this. I don’t want to upset you, but you know those vampires, werewolves and zombies people dress up as on Halloween? They’re not real. Sorry. This must come as quite a shock. But unless you only support people dressing up as fictional good guys (and good luck finding one immune to critique) or oppose dressing up in general, I fail to see the harm. Halloween celebrates fictional horror (literary and cinematic) and Gothic Romance. Do you object to your child playing Herod in the Nativity play? No? Would you support him dressing as a Christian saint at the point of their martyrdom? No? Interesting.
3. Okay, then, smart-guy, it celebrates the ugly and violent
Halloween costumes are often kinda gory. But do you really think the people pouring corn-syrup blood on their faces are fantasising about murder? I mean before you tell them that what they are doing is evil? Or is it that dressing one night of the year as the victim or the villain is going to desensitise us all to violence? If so, I will be seeing you picketing Skyfall soon, yes? All that shooting. All that death. The fact is that people who wear a symbol of execution round their necks and venerate their God at the moment he was bloodily tortured to death should really think carefully about this as an argument. The Bible is full of murder, violence and other ugly things. So is life. Parodying them is comforting and healthy, not an endorsement.
4. Halloween is a gateway into the occult
No it isn’t. Books are. Burn some books. Seriously, you can buy the I Ching, Golden Dawn Rituals, Aleister Crowley tomes and books of spells in book form a lot easier than in skeleton-onesie or pumpkin form. The devilish imagery around Halloween is unhelpful, I agree, in making people take Satan seriously. But to blame Halloween for what is essentially the end of Christendom seems a bit of a stretch. Famous pinko liberals like Martin Luther have said we should laugh at the Devil, but I just think we should learn to tell the difference between playing dress-up and theology.
5. Celebrating Halloween is conforming to the world
Really? This is where we look for our distinctiveness? Refusing to give children candy or carve pumpkins? Yeah, that seems an accurate summation of Christianity’s message. Totally legit. Or maybe it is just another way of truly conforming to a society that tries to push all thought of death and mortality aside, leaving no sepulchre unwhitewashed for 364 days a year.
What scares many of us about Halloween is an aesthetic, not a spiritual issue. And that’s fine. If you don’t like 19th Century Gothic novels or 20th Century zombie films, or if you have really only ever identified with the heroes of fiction or history even if your sense of humour doesn’t stretch as far as finding the ridiculous in darkness that’s fine by me. Don’t participate. But pretending this is a necessary outworking of all Christianity makes our faith seem petty and dumb. And I know you don’t want that.
Photo by Nicolas Raymond