In defense of Halloween

This is October, the month of Halloween. I am an unabashed and unrepentant fan of this dark holiday.

Halloween is controversial, among the finger-waggers of both a secular, as well as a religious, bent. 

Ideological secularists believe that SCIENCE can provide the answer to everything. The celebration of Halloween is therefore irrational, as Dr. Spock would say. 

But most secular types simply ignore Halloween. They spend Halloween night reading Richard Dawkins, or something. The real opposition to Halloween comes from evangelical know-it-alls, who believe that if it isn’t in Scripture, then it must be evil. They fear satanic influences on Halloween night.

It’s true that Halloween has some pagan origins—or at least some pagan associations. So too, does the concept of the afterlife (which can be traced back to the pagan Greeks). Also, the celebration of Christmas on December 25th. (Many aspects of our traditional Christmas holiday come from pagan sources, in fact.) 

The uncomfortable truth is that in ancient times, Christianity and paganism existed side-by-side, and were often intermingled. Attempts to purge Christianity of all pagan influences are usually fruitless—and pointless. 

Symbols change their meanings over time. The Christmas wreath has its origins in pagan Rome. But how many of us are thinking of the Roman pantheon when we hang a wreath in December? Common sense, people. You don’t become a pagan on a technicality. 

Halloween is ultimately an expression of humility–a very Christian (and humanistic) virtue. The holiday is an acknowledgement that human beings must live in a world where dark forces exist, where bad things happen to good people, where much of life is uncertain. 

That includes evil, however you define it. And the inevitability of death.

Sometimes, these two forces are tightly intermingled. Consider our anxieties over mass shootings and acts of terrorism. These instances of senseless violence involve both evil and death. 

Here is where the evangelical Christian, the Dawkins-quoting secularist, and the lapsed Roman Catholic can find a point of common ground. As human beings, we are all ultimately vulnerable. Our loved ones are ultimately vulnerable. Death eventually comes for all of us, regardless of what we believe. And none of us knows, with absolute empirical certainty, what does—or doesn’t—come next. 

If that uncertainty doesn’t cause you occasional moments of anxiety, then maybe you’re spending too much time watching cat videos on Facebook.

Halloween is a holiday in which we consciously choose to laugh and celebrate in the full acknowledgment that our world includes evil, death, and uncertainty. This is what the motifs of Halloween—skeletons, gravestones, and black cats—represent. Death. Evil.

The celebration of Halloween can, in this way, be an expression of Christian faith: a willingness to walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death. 

No—a willingness to skip through the Valley of the Shadow of Death. For just one night each year.