An Evil Holiday?

All Hallows Eve.  That’s where we get the word “halloween.”  The day after Halloween  is the feast of All Saints when we remember and celebrate all those who are in heaven.  It’s a holy day in the Catholic Church when all Catholics attend Mass and honor the saints who are models of Christian virtue and perseverance.  So how did the eve or vigil of All Saints Day become associated with goblins and ghouls?  The simple answer is that if you believe in God and Holy Scripture, then you also believe in the reality of evil in the world.  The devil and his army of demons contest for our souls as the “principalities and powers” described by St. Paul (Ephesians 6:11).  But today a lot of people don’t believe in the devil anymore.  Evil has become just one more outdated idea like the flat earth.  In America, the Puritans made it illegal to celebrate Halloween, mostly out of their anti-Catholic prejudices.  Anything associated with Catholic belief or practice, like the holy days of worship, was outlawed.  The popular customs we associate with Halloween, like carving vegetables and lighting them inside with candles and celebrating the night before All Saints Day are largely Irish Catholic traditions brought to this country with the immigrants.
 
With diminishing cultural beliefs in the reality of evil and the suppression of Catholic beliefs and practices, Halloween had all but disappeared in America until 1923 when a novelty company in Framingham, Massachusetts began to market costume kits and instructions on pumpkin carving and trick-or-treating that quickly became popular.  Over the following decades, Halloween became a secular holiday that most families embraced.  Unfortunately the rich, instructive faith history of the holiday has been ignored, forgotten and even rejected outright.  If we relegate goblins and demons to the real of mere superstition or harmless diversion, we empower evil.  Satan’s influence in the world grows greater whenever he can convince someone that he doesn’t exist.  We are still engaged in the battle against him, but instead of calling him by name, we attribute evil to social causes like a bad childhood or poor interpersonal skills.  And so we don’t confront evil with the truth of Christ crucified anymore.  This truth is at the heart of what we celebrate on All Saints Day.
 
My Catholic faith teaches that evil is rejecting God.  It is a real force that can have very real and eternal consequences for those who choose to turn away from the Lord.  Just as heaven is a real place, hell is also real.  Both are everlasting.  We choose hell over heaven when we reject God’s love for us.  Saints are people whose hearts are filled with God’s love and grace and who consistently chose God’s truth over the lies of the evil one.  They lived in the joy of the Lord, not in the anxiety and fearfulness which Satan wants for all of us.  While we believe in the reality of demons and fallen angels, we don’t fear them because we live in the power of the risen Christ.  Some Christian parents are hesitant to allow their children to dress as witches or devils when they trick-or-treat.  Certainly this is a decision each family must make for themselves.  But Halloween is a great time for parents to answer their children’s questions about goblins and devils and to reassure them that God’s love is more powerful than anything “spooky.”  Jesus is our Light and when we follow Him, the darkness of the world is dispelled.  God hears their prayers and never lets any of His children walk without His loving protection.
 
So set out your jack-o-lanterns and thank the Irish Catholic immigrants whose traditions we imitate.  Enjoy the evening with your children and be generous with all the little tricksters who come to your door.  Most of all, remember that the next day’s  light brings with it a holy day of prayer and thanksgiving in remembrance of the servants of God who have shown us the way to heaven.  These saints are our brothers and sisters in faith and their lives are examples to us of how to love and serve God with humility and joy.  These darkening autumn days hold within them the bright light of All Saints Day and the greater, uncreated light of Christ, our Savior.
 
St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle.
Be our defense against the wickedness and snares of the devil.
May God rebuke him, we humbly pray, and do Thou,
O Prince of the heavenly hosts, by the power of God,
Thrust into hell Satan and all the spirits
Who prowl the world seeking the ruin of souls.
Amen.
                —-Prayer to St. Michael the Archangel

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