Halloween – a Counterpoint

Just like the annual Christmas discussion, we are at the time for the annual Orthodox Halloween discussion. I wrote this in response to a friend who sent me this link. I wasn’t going to turn this into a blog entry, until I saw this video from the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese youth ministry.

I find John Sanidopolous’ arguments on Halloween a bit lacking. He admits here, and elsewhere, that he is a big fan of horror movies and Halloween, and it feels to me like he has focused particular effort on defending this holiday to justify this love of a genre that is arguably not very edifying.  Whether or not it is appropriate for him to love this genre is a matter for him and his spiritual father as such is well above my pay grade. If you’re interested, he has some links on his page discussing the horror genre, and suggesting that it is a good one for Christians. I’ll leave that for a future discussion.

It may be true that the pagan history of Halloween is merely fiction developed by 19th century Celtic scholars, as he has proposed recently, but that is largely irrelevant.  I find that looking at the fruit of this particular celebration to be a much more useful measure of the degree that Christians should participate.  Especially Orthodox Christians, as this is not our feast day.  When I was an Anglican, we endeavored to keep  All Saints and All Hallows’ Eve as the religious observation they are supposed to be.

So what, in my opinion, is the fruit of Halloween in this country?  Well, we need only look at what movies show on TV, and are promoted at the iTunes Store, and on Netflix.  All rather gruesome horror movies, about demonic possession of children, murder, virgin sacrifices, and the like.  A look at the costumes that are popular among adults as well as some that have been created for just this year are telling.  They range from hyper sexual to downright horrific.  The worst examples of the latter that I’ve seen this year are a group of people dressed as the dead crew of the downed Asiana flight, and one of a woman eating the baby that had been ripped from her womb, for the former, just google Miley Cyrus and Nikki Minaj and Halloween.  Adult Halloween parties have become somewhat notorious for over indulgence.

What I find, however, very interesting is a couple of anecdotes.  One is from last night, when a friend noted that the neighbors houses were scaring the little ones too much, and that is was sad to see.  The other one is from several years ago when our eldest was still in elementary school.  It was the day after the annual haunted house at his school.  A mom was chatting with her friend about her preschooler who had become separated from the family in the haunted house and was found terrified, sitting on the floor in the middle of the haunted house crying.  That was sad enough.  What was equally sad was that the mom was laughing about it.

I will admit that I used to buy into the Samhain myth as well, but I seem to recall that we had developed an opposition to the holiday due to the sorts of things that seem to go with the holiday, and only later did the myth provide some sort of support for our view. However, regardless of the origin of us not participating, we haven’t done Halloween really for almost 20 years, I have found that over the years of not celebrating the day, I seem to be more shocked by what goes on around it, and much less interested in participating.  Maybe it’s just me.

All this is strictly my opinion, of course.  What people do or don’t do with regard to this day is entirely up to them.  Certainly, one can participate in the activities around the day without participating in the more dubious aspects.  We have even come to at least permit the kids to dress up for school.  We also hand out candy to the kids that come by, as that feels like we are at least showing some hospitality.  Some would argue that we shouldn’t even do that, some would argue that I’m being ridiculous for being concerned at all.

I write this simply to provide a counterpoint to John S.  Although I find a lot of his material very good, I disagree with his logic on this one.  He seems to argue that the only reason that Halloween is considered bad is because it is supposedly rooted in Samhain, a pagan holiday.  Samhain doesn’t exist, or at least Halloween has nothing to do with it, so therefore it is okay to participate.  I think there are stronger arguments against participation than the one he consistently brings up year after year.  In fact, it has become a bit of a straw man.  While I have read things by Orthodox bishops using the roots of Halloween as a reason to avoid it, I suspect they were looking for a more concrete reason to avoid participating in a day they already sensed was not very edifying, and latched onto the puritanical hatred of holidays that has apparently fed the Samhain myth (similar to the anti-Christmas sentiment).

Conveniently, we’re Orthodox, and there is not a lot of hard and fast. So, for John and others that participate (presumably with their spiritual father’s blessing), more power to you. However, I will disagree with their saying that it is absolutely okay to participate in Halloween, just as they would disagree with my saying you absolutely should not participate. I think that their is enough going on around the holiday to warrant a conversation with one’s spiritual father.