Halloween

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Halloween has always been one of my favorite holidays, and I refuse to allow Fundamentalist Christians, both Protestant and Catholic, to spoil it for me. It is because of that that I am writing my second post on this topic.  I am quite aware that October 31 is the eve of All Saints Day. Why should that face forbid Halloween parties and trick-or-treating? Some Fundamentalists behave as if Halloween is the doorway to the Satan‘s closet. They claim that the holiday began in devil worship; therefore, those who celebrate Halloween today are celebrating a Satanic holiday. Now this reasoning is as fluffy as the neural structure of many Fundamentalist Christians because it is a classic case of a genetic fallacy. It is not legitimate to argue from the origin of a practice that the practice has the same meaning today. The same reasoning applies to holidays. Even if Halloween began with Satanic worship (which is historically false anyway), it would not follow that trick-or-treaters are engaged in Satanic worship today. What is the harm in dressing up like monsters and skeletons and presidents and going out to ask people for candy? I enjoy the ambiance of Halloween, the ghost stories, the horror movies and books that come out this time of year. I enjoy giving candy to trick-or-treaters who drop by my house (as long as they don’t try to double-dip). I do not own a Satanic altar on the side, nor do I use one owned by someone else.

Halloween has its roots in a Celtic fall festival associated with nature religion. The pre-Christian Celts were “pagan,” but paganism is not the same thing as Satanism, the early church fathers notwithstanding. True, from a Christian point of view, nature religion confuses the creature with the creator, but it does except the existence of some kind of transcendent and it recognizes the awe people sometimes fell in a beautiful or sublime natural setting. As C. S. Lewis remarked, there is a dignity to high paganism even if its theological premises are flawed and/or incomplete. Paganism has nothing to do with the worship of evil demons, at least in its classic forms. Even if the Druids had a fall festival that marks the roots of contemporary Halloween celebrations, it does not follow that that is what Halloween means today. Even if there are contemporary Druids who engage in pagan rituals on Halloween–and there are–this does not mean that a child saying “trick-or-treat” is a pagan practice. Neither are similar holidays, such as the Day of the Dead in Mexico, which is practiced by Roman Catholic Christians.

Children should take proper safety precautions–if they do, then I say, “Go ahead and have fun!” If a Fundamentalist Christian objects, that is that individual’s right under the law, even if his case were weak. The Fundamentalist needs to be careful in judging others and calling them pagans or Satanists without adequate evidence. Their zeal can move them to the borders of slandering the children who are only out having fun. My word to the Fundamentalists about Halloween is to “lighten up!”

Halloween, Ignorance, and the Genetic Fallacy

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Some Christian churches condemn trick-or-treating as if it were a branch of witchcraft. Instead, they have “fall festivals” in which children dress up like Bible characters or (in the Catholic tradition) like saints. Halloween is, in the literature of Fundamentalist Christianity, connected with Satanism. Even in some less rigid Evangelical traditions Halloween is considered to be pagan.

These are ignorant positions. So what is Halloween? It is the eve of All Saints’ Day, which is why it is sometimes called “All Hallows Eve.” In the ancient Druidic religion of the Celts, it was considered a day in which spirits could pass through to this world. These spirits were not necessarily evil; some were benevolent, others not so much. To protect themselves from harmful spirits, Celts would dress up as spirits to ward off the bad ones. Other customs, such as the jack-0-lantern, arose from the Roman Catholic tradition, from the practice of placing a candle in a turnip to remember souls in Purgatory. Since the souls in Purgatory will be in Heaven one day, remembering them was not considered to be a frightening occasion.

By the late nineteenth century, the elements that would later make up trick-or-treating were in place, but trick-or-treating did not become common practice until the twentieth century. Halloween was not historically associated with Satanism despite Fundamentalists who seem to find Satan around every corner except their own.

Roman Catholics have been, for the most part, friendly to trick-or-treating–even Fr. Gabriel Amroth, the Vatican’s chief exorcist, has no problem with trick-or-treating as long as it is only play. Mainline Protestants also have no problem with celebrating Halloween. But other Protestants and a few rigid Roman Catholics insist that Halloween remains a pagan festival even today that is wrong for Christians to celebrate.

The fallacy in the Fundamentalists’ argument is obvious: they assume that because a certain celebration began as x, it is always x. That is, they assume that if Halloween began as a pagan celebration, then any celebration of Halloween must be a pagan festival. This is a version of the genetic fallacy, which involves the assumption that because a practice originally had one meaning that it necessarily has that same meaning today. This is a common error some Christians (and many others) make, but the conclusion does not follow from the premise.

As a child, I loved trick-0r-treating. As long as precautions are taken against cruel people who would harm children during trick-or-treating, I believe it is a fun activity in which children can engage.