Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Repost: Catholics Can Do Halloween

[I had a spare day off I had to burn, so we were out and about visiting family today and then dashing back just in time for trick-or-treating in the freezing drizzle, but since I'm been running quiet lately, here's a timely repost.]

In my early days of elementary school, we lived in neighborhoods where my parents weren't sure about the wisdom of going trick-or-treating, so my early Halloween memories are of going to the Haunted House and Halloween Party put on in the parish hall, as a trick-or-treating alternative for similarly worried parents. This gave me the chance to charge around in costume with my friends from the parish school, bring home a massive haul of candy, and get scared silly by the Haunted House designed and staffed by the eighth graders and teachers. It was, as the phrase goes, good clean fun.

As such, I've found it odd, of late, to see Catholic parishes, schools and homeschooling groups start putting on "All Saints Day" parties on Halloween or on the nearest weekend as a sort of holy second best to the more goulish folk holiday. Children are encouraged to dress up as their favorite saint and religiously-themed games are played. (Toss the halo over the angel, go fishing with Noah, join St. George in attacking the dragon pinata, etc.)

These are all harmless enough, though as a kid I think I would have found them too goody-two-shoes-y to be fun (candy haul aside), and we've taken our kids to such parties most years because their friends are going and no kid wants to be left out of a get-candy-and-play-with-friends opportunity.

Nonetheless, I can't help a little annoyance at the idea of turning All Saints Day into low rent counter-programming to Halloween, when Halloween (All Hallows Eve) has its origins in the working of the Catholic folk imagination on All Saints Day and All Souls Day. Father Augustine Thompson provides a good summary:
So now the Church had feasts for all those in heaven and all those in purgatory? What about those in the other place? It seems Irish Catholic peasants wondered about the unfortunate souls in hell. After all, if the souls in hell are left out when we celebrate those in heaven and purgatory, they might be unhappy enough to cause trouble. So it became customary to bang pots and pans on All Hallows Even to let the damned know they were not forgotten. Thus, in Ireland, at least, all the dead came to be remembered — even if the clergy were not terribly sympathetic to Halloween and never allowed All Damned Day into the Church calendar.
The article goes on to describe how the fusion in America of various Catholic immigrant customs centering around All Hallows Eve and All Souls Day with the trick-or-treating-like customs from England which had evolved around Guy Fawkes Day, gave birth in the peculiar way that folk customs have the way of doing to modern, the modern American holiday of Halloween.

While it's perhaps in keeping with a Puritan ethic to be suspicious of goings on, there's really no reason why Catholics should be afraid to don a fun or scary costume, carve a jack-o-lantern, consume far too much candy, and then leave out a bowl of creme for the household hob or brownie in hopes that he'll take care of the clean up during the night.

1 comment:

Bernadette said...

I think the various Saints Day celebrations are actually crossovers from fundamentalist Protestant communities, where they're a relatively recent thing even there. When I was little (20-25 years ago) my mother subscribed to a fundy Protestant newsletter that had regular diatribes against the Satanist practices of Halloween, and suggested Kings Kids Parties, complete with only "holy" costumes (read: no witches) and mass candy distribution as a substitute. As far as I can tell, these parish parties are just the Catholic version.