Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Random Reflections on Redeeming Halloween

I am weary of the assertion that Halloween is sinful. With each year I grow more impatient with the protest the Halloween is "Hell's Holiday" or the "Devil's Night."

It is naive and inconsistent to single out Halloween as the troublesome holiday. (I respect the Jehovah's Witness in so far as they reject all holidays. They are at least consistent in their protestation). Nearly every major holiday has commendable and lamentable qualities; not only with regard to history but also modern practice. For instance, Halloween is disparaged for having pagan roots. What traditional holidays, other than the national holidays, do not have pagan roots? Christmas is infused with pagan elements borrowed from the feast of Saturnalia. Valentine’s Day is associated with the Lupercalia fertility festival. Even the symbols of Easter originate from various pagan fertility cults. The only real difference is that bunnies and eggs are cuter than skulls and witches, even though they are just as pagan.

Some argue that we can forgive the other holidays of their unfortunate pagan roots because they honor family or participate in the spirit of giving. First, I am not so sure that Christmas and Valentine’s are about giving as much as they are about getting. The modern practice of both has become co-opted by raging consumerism. Second, Halloween may not imbibe of the same degree of family spirit as Christmas and Thanksgiving, but Halloween does have a spirit of community that few holidays enjoy. Halloween traditions still rely on the concept of the neighborhood. On what other day or night can children come to the doors of neighbors without feeling like intruders? Sharing is encouraged. But of course we have to X-Ray the candy and beware of the ever-present danger of the razor blade in the apple, yes? Come on, hasn’t the Internet taught us to be wary of urban legends?

My memories of Halloween are good. My birthday is on Halloween, and perhaps this is why I want to redeem it from the slander. It is a great day for your birthday as a child. You get gifts. You get to dress up as your favorite character and everyone celebrates your birthday. Even the stories I have heard about Halloween’s past entertain me. My father grew up in southern New York and I always loved to hear his tales of the Halloween pranks that he and his buddies contrived. He even remembers hearing how his father and his comrades hoisted the sheriff’s Model T up on the church house on Halloween night. No one was harmed. No one was shot. Maybe there were some messes and inconvenience, but it wasn’t criminal. And in all of those stories I don’t recall any reflection on Samhain, the Druids, warlocks, or . . . . SATAN! Satan is not any more or less active on October 31 than he is on any other day of the year.

Halloween is a traditional event, but it is also just any other day. A day with good and evil and a day waiting to be redeemed . . . just like every day.