I am just going to say it. I have dressed as a witch. This doesn’t mean that I am worshipping the Dark Lord or practicing Wiccan incantations. I just like a good Halloween celebration, a fancy hat, and a black tutu. Also, pointy shoes give you a more elongated leg line.
For years, the debate has raged in the Christian community about whether or not to celebrate Halloween, with all its implications of evil and terror. Back when we lived in Austin, we even had a neighbor who was turned away from buying a child’s black dress at a garage sale when the owner heard she wanted to use it as a costume for the little witch in Kiki’s Delivery Service. This concern about the occult even extends to the Harry Potter books, in some instances, which I am pretty sure are fiction. Back in our day, the fuss was over Dungeons and Dragons, which now just appears charmingly retro in the series Stranger Things. Over the years, we have seen religious pumpkins, pumpkin prayers, and coloring sheets that tell us candy corn reminds us of Jesus. Maybe because they are both good?
In the Catholic world, there has been a more reasoned approach to the Halloween season, IMHO. In the last decade or so, there has been an emphasis on encouraging children to dress as saints and angels instead of devils. I am not sure that anyone would recognize what the kids are dressing up as in random robes, priest, and nun outfits, but I don’t understand half of what comes to our door anyway. I am sure most of my son’s esoteric gamer costumes are lost on the general public as well (He is going as Guzma, the Pokémon trainer this year). Secretly, I kind of like the suggestion of dressing up as saints. Since many of them were killed in nasty ways (to paraphrase Monty Python), the gore really marries well with the holiday. Think St. Sebastian, with all the arrows and blood. One parish we attended had a really nice All Saints Day celebration that drew the distinction between all these holidays and actually celebrated a Holy Day. Go figure. My son’s Catholic homeschool program gives him two days off this week!
In Texas, matters are further complicated by our celebration of Dia de los Muertos. I will never forget the day we popped up in downtown Austin and the kids were confronted by hordes of skeletons. I never looked at the paper or news there (largely because I wanted to pretend I was elsewhere) and had failed to notice that we had walked right into the Dia de Los Muertos parade. I like the celebration, though, because it reminds us of our mortality and calls to mind those who have gone before in an appropriate and festive way.
Imagine my surprise when I encountered an older article on beliefnet.com that researched the actual origins of Halloween and our current celebrations. They are not necessarily pagan, or not as pagan as we sometimes think. They are an amalgamation of French, Irish, English traditions that centered around the feasts of all Saints and Souls days, with a dash of American marketing. Witches? They were actually added by the greeting card companies! The celebrations initially just had to do with – wait for it -fun. People really just liked trick-or-treating. How that led us to Jamie Lee Curtis slasher movies is left a mystery.
Are some people going to use this holiday as an excuse for evil? Probably. Have things maybe gotten a little out of control? If you look at our yard, you would say “Yes.” I think we do ourselves a disservice, though, if we disown the holiday because it has been distorted and because popular culture in currently obsessed with all things magical, zombie, and vampire. We should be steadfast in our origins. We should not ignore evil and we should not ignore death. To do less is to cheat ourselves of the fullness of our human experiences. We need perspective. We need both saints and sinners, angels and pirates. Let’s take Halloween back! Who’s with me?
PS: My husband promised me he would leave the inflatables back in Austin…They mysteriously reappeared this year.