Halloween is a notoriously controversial holiday. You’ve got the girls who wear as little clothes as possible, the people who stay in to watch scary movies, the religious fanatics who look down on the holiday for its “pagan” qualities, and many other viewpoints and reactions to Halloween. Some people are offended by the scant costumes, others by the recognition of the possibility of a spirit world. It seems that no matter who you talk to, someone has a bone to pick about Halloween.
Now, I’ve always celebrated Halloween and I’d never really thought about the religious aspect of it until high school. Sure, I knew that I had to go to church the next day because it was a holy day of obligation, but I was much more excited about dressing up and getting free candy that would last me for at least a month, sometimes more. I didn’t think about what I felt about the deceased or where I thought they went after death.
However, this year I have a roommate who is very Christian and does not celebrate Halloween, has never celebrated it. I didn’t have a problem with this at all (what does it matter to me if she doesn’t want to dress up or watch scary movies?), but it did make me think more about the implications our modern version of Halloween has on the religious beliefs of some people, particularly Christians.
According to a website completely dedicated to Halloween history, Halloween’s origins date back to an ancient Celtic holiday known as Samhain. The Gaels thought that on October 31st, the end of their harvest season, the boundaries between the worlds of living and dead would overlap, allowing the deceased to come back and wreak havoc on the living and their crops and livelihood.
Christians, however, are not supposed to believe in the ability of the dead to enter the world of the living. Yes, we believe that sometimes our deceased loved ones communicate with us through symbols (my best friend, for example, thinks his grandmother is looking out for him whenever he sees a cardinal bird). However, according to Christian theology, souls can only inhabit two places: heaven or hell. They do not reenter the world of the living after they have passed on. This, I believe, is at the heart of why many Christians denounce and even fear Halloween.
This seems to address a bigger theme of separating religion from cultural “norms.” Is it even possible to separate yourself from your religion to enjoy a holiday like Halloween, one that goes against what you were always taught about your religion ? Does it make me less of a Christian to believe in ghosts and celebrate Halloween, because I am acknowledging that maybe souls can exist elsewhere besides heaven and hell?
All I wanted to do was trick or treat or find a costume party to go to last night, but after thinking about all of this, I was exhausted and chose instead to stay home and watch “Halloweentown” and “Practical Magic” with my other two roommates. My third roommate, though, went to bed early, not wishing any of us a “Happy Halloween.” This seemed to be one of those situations where I wanted to have my cake and eat it, too, but somewhere inside me, I was still unsure that was possible.