Monday, October 31, 2011
It's All Hallows Eve
That's right, the holiday commonly known as Halloween, with pagan roots handed down by way of the Christian liturgical calendar, is upon us. Most Americans, including not a few within the Catholic tradition, probably see this as a time to get the little'uns dressed up as ghouls and ghosts and goblins. Or more likely costumed in the form of the latest cultural or movie fad. Possibly, if keeping up with the Joneses, seeing their kids getting sexed up, as is the trend in adult costumes. Getting candy. Getting drunk. Partying.
The nostalgia factor is difficult to grasp, that's for sure. As America continues to flounder due to its lack of roots in anything beyond the latest smartphone technology, hedonism has become the overarching trademark of American life, mixed with consumerism and narcissism. Thus it's tough to remember that, for the child of the Western Tradition, this day actually has some religious connotations, if only because of its proximity to All Saints Day, and All Souls Day which follows fast on its heels.
Yes, much of it, even historically, was a result of the assimilation of non-Christian traditions and customs. Contrary to popular Hollywood belief, the Catholic Church didn't butcher and slaughter any idea that came from outside of its cloistered walls. Throughout its history, many traditions, ideals, practices, and customs from the pagan world made their way into the stream of the faith. Christmas trees anyone? This unofficial holiday is no different.
While the history of Halloween and all of the associated images and icons is beyond my concern or care right now, it's enough to remember that behind all the conflicting stories of where jack-o-lanterns came from, behind all of the diverse theories about the level of influence that ancient pagan practice had on this day, behind all of the usual scholarly squabbles over the precise method by which this European custom came to America, is a very simple truth.* That truth is that, for the Christian, today is simply the day before that grand celebration of the Saints of the faith. For all the saints, including those who don't have their own particular day or recognition, tomorrow is a time to rejoice and celebrate that great cloud of witnesses and the peace and bliss to which they point.
It's appropriate, of course, that the evening before such a celebration of the promise of salvation would find its antithesis in a reflection on the darker truths of the universe. A time when death is dwelt upon, the powers of darkness are reflected upon - and dutifully mocked - and we maintain a healthy reminder of just what forces exist outside of the covering grace of God. And when kept in perspective, the nightly buffoonery and frolicking, the candy and caramel apples, seem altogether acceptable.
It's when we discard tomorrow, and see tonight as the end all; when we see it as a time to rejoice in hedonism and debauchery, when Madison Avenue steps in and pushes the sexting up of our kids in order to cash in on a expendable childhoods, when life is sold cheap, and we applaud the mutilation of life and the living for our own gratification, that the holiday has lost its luster. Indeed, it has lost its one possible meaning. That meaning is that the dark forces can indeed be mocked and even laughed at, because we have been given a salvation that has been passed down through the ages. A salvation that many before us have obtained, and through the sacramental life of the Church triumphant, we have an avenue through which we can wake up in the morning, and remind ourselves that it was all a passing moment. We can remember that the real existence is that which will take us beyond this mortal coil, and into the arms of the Living God for eternity. That is the celebration of All Hallows' Day.
So Happy All Hallows Eve. Rejoice in the promise of salvation before us. Remind ourselves of the present darkness and the powers and principalities of this age, the fate that awaits those who would so willingly reject the gracious gift of God, and from there we can throw back the tides of rampant consumerism, debauchery, decadence, hedonism, and similar philosophical children of darkness, and enjoy a ghost or goblin for what it really represents: a way of making little the darkness which cannot withstand the Light. Oh, and enjoy those Hershey bars in the process.
*For a nice little look at the origins of the holiday from a non-secular, non-skeptic's perspective, you could do worse than this little article.