This is a day that seems filled with disputes, particularly this year, about the Catholicity or Anti-Catholicity of the festivities. I’ve never been a die-hard Halloween person, but growing up, we did the typical trick-or-treating and dressing up in costumes, generally not of a religious nature. Nearly every year I went as something that could be assembled at home. One year I was a clown, another a scarecrow, and another year an old lady. (That last one was last year.) I enjoyed my mom’s creativity and how she pulled together costumes and matched it up with heavy make-up to play the part more authentically.
For a few years in college, though, I spent Halloween on a pro-life retreat in Brooklyn. We stayed in a monastery where Sisters of the Precious Blood lived and didn’t venture outside. In fact, I had to remind myself that it was Halloween when I was there. Immersed in talks about the history of the pro-life movement and the development of the Culture of Death, I wasn’t interested in Halloween or costumes, spooky or humorous.
Then, I graduated college and returned to South Dakota. My hometown had ramped up their celebrations of the day during the years I was away from home. Full-out murder scenes were staged in front yards. Even though they were clearly fake with faces roughly sketched on bedsheet corpses, I found myself oddly sensitive to the horror. It continues to mystify me that awful acts, when experienced in real life, are entertaining and fun when mockingly displayed. Chainsaws, torture devices, and bodies splayed open are “all in good fun” during a few weeks of the year. My heart, though, doesn’t pay attention to the time of the year. It is bothered by these scenes, regardless how fakey they seem or when they are presented.
In the same way that haunted houses and scary movies have never intrigued me, the blood-bath, ghoulish version of Halloween has never been of interest. You might think I’m too serious, and, I will admit, my nature and temperament border on gravity. But I’m bothered because these things are what human beings have actually done to other human beings. I cannot laugh at a grandma mannequin being stalked by a chainsaw-wielding mannequin because sometime in someplace it wasn’t fake, it was real. The depravity that can be found in the human heart does not strike me as funny but sobering.
The grotesque has never been humorous for me. Perhaps you disagree personally. Each person has a different level of sensitivity. Nevertheless, I think it could do us some good to consider the following: why are we as a culture amused by death, torture, and destruction? As we hear about one violent attack after another, why are we compelled to perpetuate it in our homes and our lawns, even if as a joke? Rather than eliminate the fun, I simply want us to consider the way we celebrate and what we think is entertaining.
Celebrate Halloween, if you wish. I will, in my own way, and I don’t think it is a bad thing. But keep in mind what we are exalting and what principles we are backing. The goodness of All Hallow’s Eve, whether it finds us bedecked in saintly garb or as a character from The Office, should shine through as we live in a culture and attempt to transform it. The saints were often humorous, but they didn’t stoop to praising what is evil or grotesque. Let us do the same as we strive to become saints–particularly on the eve of what will hopefully be our feast day, All Saints’ Day.