I really hadn't intended to do a second Halloween post this year, but two things happened. First, I saw several "pro-Halloween" posts like this one, which seem to go out of their way to send a message that says, "Look--all the cool Catholic bloggers take their kids trick-or-treating, so if you're doing some alternative All Saint's thing then you're either a) a silly goose who thinks trick-or-treating is Satanic, or b) a silly goose who thinks that fake severed heads dripping with fake blood hanging from a neighbor's tree are too scary for small children instead of being exactly the kind of totally awesome "memento mori" thing Catholics ought to love, or c) a silly goose who doesn't get the secret but awesome Catholic mysticism involved in dressing up like a Disney princess and getting free candy from the neighbors in an ancient mystical rite that has been around forever--or, well, that only exists in America and only since sometime in the 1930s or so, but we shouldn't let history get in the way of a good story, right?"
And second...but we'll get to that in a moment.
For the umpteenth gazillionth time, I do not think that trick-or-treating is inherently evil. I also don't think that reindeer and popcorn balls are evil, or that candy-shaped boxes full of chocolates are evil, or that leprechauns and green beer are evil, or that Mardi Gras beads and king cake are evil. What I do think is that they are secular add-ons to religious holidays, and as such are totally and completely optional for Catholics. If my brother's Chaldean Catholic in-laws (for example) don't throw a green-themed party on March 17, are they being less than Catholic? Or is it simply the case that St. Patrick's importance to the liturgical calendar depends just a bit on one's own particular cultural heritage? If I don't attempt to bake a king cake on Mardi Gras, does this make me less than Catholic--or is it simply a recognition that my family's traditions don't include this particular part of pre-Lenten preparation?
So, if you'll pardon me, why all the fuss? Why do those who do enjoy trick-or-treating get all bent out of shape when they hear that my girls--who are too old to trick-or-treat anyway, by their own estimation--prefer the All Saint's party their awesome aunt and uncle host? Why do so many Catholics seem to care so much about this one tiny optional activity to celebrate Halloween--an activity which hasn't been around in its present form all that long, historically speaking, and which may or may not be practical depending on where you live, what your neighborhood (if you live in one) is like, and a whole lot of other variables that are going to be different for each family?
I'm not sure I have an answer. But what I do have is an observation.
In our dysfunctional culture, a lot of the secular "add-ons" to real holy days have become corrupted by that culture. We Catholics are very aware of this--we bemoan the disappearance of the word "Christmas" from our culture and the substitution of the ubiquitous and ambiguous "Holiday;" we worry about the commercialization of Christmas and some of the silly extremes to which secular elements have been taken (Mrs. Claus, anyone?); we recognize that people who've never set foot in a Catholic Church agitate for Gay Pride floats in St. Patrick's Day parades; we are aware of the sinful excesses of much of the Mardi Gras events in places like New Orleans; we sigh over St. Valentine's name and memory being used to advertise jewelry, much of it mined, manufactured and obtained in ways that are cruel and unjust from our poor brothers and sisters in countries where existence is a constant struggle--I could go on, but you get the point, I'm sure.
Halloween has not been untouched by the corruption of our culture. Whether it is used as the backdrop for movies featuring graphic violence and gore, or whether it is "claimed" by various neo-pagans, or whether the present fascination with vampires sinks its fangs into the day, or whether it increasingly becomes an excuse for people to dress and act immodestly, or whether it combines all of these negative attributes and adds others I haven't thought of or mercifully don't know about, our culture has not left Halloween alone. Does this mean that Catholics have to reject all secular celebrations of it? No, as I've said umpteen gazillion times already. But what it does mean is that each family is going to have to decide for itself how much "Halloweening" it is comfortable with--and if a Catholic family decides that they'd rather skip the neighborhood trick-or-treating and attend an All Saint's Day party instead, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.
And that brings me to that second thing that is making me write this post (remember, way above, I said I'd get to it?). Our dysfunctional culture loves to attack what is good and holy, and it will do this at Halloween just as it does at other times of the year. We took this picture at a local branch of a big-box grocery store last week. My daughters were appalled by this costume being presented quite casually alongside costumes featuring witches, monsters, vampires and the like:
If you can't read the print on the package, the title of this costume is "Playful Nun." As our oldest girl said, "Nuns are supposed to be an example of chastity and piety. Their habits come down to their ankles, and they wear sensible shoes, not sheer stockings and heels. There's no such thing as a sexy nun." She instinctively found this costume disrespectful and insulting to our faith, as I do as well--yet the "sexy nun," "pregnant nun," and "evil/sinister priest" costumes grown in popularity in our sick culture.
However you choose to celebrate Halloween this week, then, our job as Catholics is to serve as salt and light to this culture, not to go along placidly with its worst elements. If we do the "trick-or-treat" thing we can insist on costumes that are modest and that don't pander to cultural sickness, and we can also insist on good behavior, polite attitudes, and moderate candy consumption (because gluttony isn't a virtue, either). If we do the All Saint's party, we can share stories about the saints that inspired the costumes, play saint-themed games, insist on the same standards of good behavior and polite attitudes, and remember that warning against gluttony while in the presence of Aunt Charlotte's famous pumpkin cake roll or any of her other much-anticipated dessert delights.
What none of us can do is pretend that the cultural sickness doesn't exist, or that it isn't a problem for us all. What's wrong with Halloween isn't really Halloween; what's wrong is our post-Christian culture, and its continuing decline into deviance and depravity.