Saturday, October 30, 2010

Some Thoughts on All Hallow's Eve

THE EVE OF All Hallow's Day has become one of the major American festivals, and in a typical American fashion, has incorporated many facets of our culture, including commercialism and hedonism.

Let us not forget that the root of the world culture is the Latin cultus, or religion, and our celebration of Halloween is formed by religious and philosophical ideas: some orthodox, some heretical. The Timman quotes John Zmirak in some amusing articles on the subject.

One of the most annoying aspects of the current celebration is how a festival for children (revolving around getting free candy) has morphed into a rather more hedonistic one for adults. Of course, the immaturity of our current culture is rampant, and as no one wants to take the responsibility to be an adult, Big Government takes the role of our daddy. I remember precisely the time when Halloween became an adult festival: soon after the first reports that some evil people were putting razor blades into apples and giving them to children. I do not know the veracity of that urban legend: perhaps it was promoted by dour Puritans or Marxists who hate the idea of anyone having an innocent good time.

Equally disturbing is the loss of the significant adult part of the festival, although this aspect of Halloween likely never had a significant influence in Protestant America, where Halloween is also Reformation Day. Luther's dislike of indulgences and Henry VIII's envy of the monasteries led to the loss of one of the most important ritual aspects found in nearly all religions in the world, which is prayer for the dead. You don't have to use the word Purgatory to describe the state of poor departed imperfect souls who are unable to find rest without help. Natural religion prays for the departed, Orthodox Judaism prays for them too, and the ancient Apostolic Christianity found in the Eastern and Catholic Churches prays for the dead. Our culture does not, and this idea has even infected Catholicism itself: I've been told on several occasions — by Catholics — that I needn't bother praying for a particular departed, because they were “good”; and current celebrations of the Funeral Mass often don't help matters either.

Also, we naturally recognize that some of these souls will never find rest, and that is an important aspect of Halloween, a mockery of the souls damned in Hell, and how they got there. This part of the festival is the most problematic, as the linked articles above demonstrate. I do think that having All Saints celebrations for children is an admirable practice for Catholics, but I also think that we ought to keep the popular customs about the damned also in mind: for one is a goal, the other is a warning.

Halloween also has aspects of a harvest festival, as our traditional decorations of pumpkins, cornstalks, and hay bales demonstrate. Certainly, celebrating the change of seasons is admirable, even if pagans do it, because God made the world and it was very good.

A proper adult understanding of Halloween needs to take into account the context of All Saints and All Souls Days, as well as the change in seasons, the end of the liturgical year, and eschatological considerations of Christ's return in triumph as King, the end of the world, and the destination of our own souls.  As American culture understands almost none of these, we have a lot of work ahead of us.

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