The Change in Halloween

Halloween used to be a holiday that centered on little kids getting dressed up and going trick-or-treating. Now, adults have taken over the day, knocking down the children and turning Halloween into a gore-fest. Adults have injected both sex and violence into the day, with one-up-manship centered on how to outdo one’s neighbors in images of sado-masochistic horror.

That’s not just me talking, it’s “The Washington Post.” Read Terri Sapienza’s article entitled When Did Halloween Get So Gruesome? A sampling:

Next to the standard witches, ghosts and black cats, many specialty stores and catalogues are selling creepily realistic corpses, severed limbs and butchered body parts. One catalogue advertises an animated ghoul who can vomit into a barrel on cue (special order only, $2,750). An online company sells a Tortured Torso Prop (for $149) you can lean near your front door to welcome trick-or-treaters. . . .

Horchow, the high-end Neiman Marcus affiliate, sells fake buzzards and chocolate coffins. Target sells a 15-piece cemetery kit, a hanging grim reaper and an oversize maggot. Spirit Halloween, a Spencer’s specialty store, sells the Tortured Torso Prop and a child’s costume called Sailor of Death. Fright Catalog, seller of the Vomit Barrel, also serves up John Doe, a latex corpse with a hollow chest cavity for displaying a food buffet inside.. . .

Halloween has become much more adult-driven and sexualized, according to Paul J. Donahue, a clinical psychologist and the founder and director of Child Development Associates, a group practice that works primarily with children and families in Scarsdale, N.Y. Costumes sexual in nature have become more popular.

“We’re a culture of extremes,” Donahue said. “We have to push things. At Halloween it becomes a competition among adults to outdo and go further and further.”

The technical term for this is “decadence,” a sign of a culture in dissolution.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • http://www.brandywinebooks.net Lars Walker

    I used to try to defend Halloween, since it used to be just fun, and I don’t much care for people who see demons lurking in every cupboard and bookcase. But there’s not much to defend anymore. It’s been taken over by the Wiccans. Another innocent pleasure spoiled. (Sigh.)

  • Joe

    I agree with Lars. It is out of hand and I am having an internal conflict over recognizing it. I have three kids (7, 5 & 2), they don’t know about the really nasty stuff. They want to be princesses and superheroes – fun stuff. But if I don’t stop it now, how to I stop it later when they may find the really outrageous stuff interesting.

  • organshoes

    I’d leave the forbidding, Joe, till it’s the only road to take.
    Let them have their fun while they’re kids, Joe, while you continue to point them in the right direction.
    Halloween hype is another example of many wrong things: hostility to not only religion, but to decency itself; and the ever-enlarging number of adults who can’t stop acting like adolescents, to name only two.
    It’s literally taking the candy from the babies.

  • Eric

    Halloween started out pagan and is returning to its roots. Maybe the churches should start doing All Saints day on November 1st.

    I have fond memories of Halloween as a child. One year I was a jawa from Star Wars. The next I was Buck Rogers. I even went as a werewolf and a vampire.

    Then people started getting paranoid. One started getting suggestions to dress as a bible character. You got invites to tribulation haunted houses. At the other extreme where the people running around in Jason Masks with Chain saws. I still remember the one house where the guy jumped out of the bushes in the mummy outfit. He almost made me drop my candy. I was up on the stoop so his face was at my foot level. Maybe I broke his nose.

    Our daughter is just 5 months old. We are excited to be back in the Halloween game. My wife got her a Jack O Lantern costume. We have the Neighborhood Rec. Center Party and two Grandma Houses to stop by.

  • Another Kerner

    Perhaps we might like to consider the possibilities that the celebration of “Halloween” has always been pagan, a celebration of lost and/or evil “spirits”, and in conflict with the church’s celebration of All Saints Day on 1 November.

    A long time ago I was a little girl. There was no such event as “Trick or Treat”.

    Dr. Luther tacked the Ninety-Five Theses on the church door in Wittenberg on October 31,1517.

    The words contained therein have echoed around the world since and have been cherished by those who thank God each day for the work of this Augustian monk.

    It seems rather more appropriate for Christian parents to commemorate *this* historic event on 31 October with their children.

    Happy Reformation Day.

  • http://www.oldsolar.com/currentblog.php Rick Ritchie

    I like the more innocent side of Halloween. I can see the darker side, though. I think that Dr. Veith is right in noticing a shift from the kid’s holiday to that for the adults. Now, I think that adults getting into this from time to time is one thing. I’m not even bothered by a company selling realistic looking macabre items. I’m more bothered by the idea of some adults buying from them year after year.

    My favorite adult—or should I say grown-up?—celebration of Halloween was some years back when a roommate of mine and I invited lots of people over to read ghost stories aloud. The two of us took turns reading Sleepy Hollow, which took longer than I had expected. A good ghost story and a mug of hot cider. That’s my recommendation.

    I read somewhere that reading ghost stories is an English Christmas custom, and that that is how A Christmas Carol came about. Well, we do need some good occasion to read stuff like this.

  • Bror Erickson

    The name Halloween betrays its Christian roots. i do believe there used to be a holiday called sam ain, that fell on the same day, and was pagan. But Halloween is Christian. Don’t let the wiccan’s take it over. Next you will let the shopping malls take over Christmas.
    Go ahead celebrate the day, but reclaim it’s Christian meaning.
    I did some research on this a few years ago for a speach class. It turns out that it was a baptist pastor in New York that didn’t like the Catholic Irish that first started the whole “It’s a satanic holiday bit.” No coubt the way some celebrate it, it is. But that doesn’t mean it has to be.
    “Nothing wrong with baptized kids parading costumes and taunting the Devil,” as Dr. Gard at Ft. Wayne, once said.

  • http://www.cockahoop.com/ tODD

    Bror (@7), certainly the name Halloween (a contraction of All Hallow’s Eve) is Christian, but that doesn’t mean all of the origins of the day are. Best I can tell, Halloween is one of many examples in which the (Catholic) church attempted to Christianize popular heathen customs (cf. goddess worship/Mary, pantheism/adoration of saints, and possibly Sol Invictus/the date chosen for Christmas). Here is what Wikipedia has to say on the matter (note that they cite an LCMS Web site!):

    “On the culminating day of the Lemuralia, May 13 in 609 or 610 … Pope Boniface IV consecrated the Pantheon at Rome to the Blessed Virgin and all the martyrs, and the feast of that dedicatio Sanctae Mariae ad Martyres has been celebrated at Rome ever since. According to cultural historians, this ancient custom was Christianized in the feast of All Saints’ Day, established in Rome first on May 13, in order to de-paganize the Roman Lemuria. In the eighth century, as the popular observance of the Lemuria had faded over time, the feast of All Saints was shifted to November 1, coinciding with the similar Celtic propitiation of the spirits at Samhain. Pope Gregory III consecrated a chapel in the Basilica of St. Peter to all the saints and fixed the anniversary.”

    As with so many other Christianization attempts, I’m not sure it succeeded in actually focusing people on Christ, but rather convinced them that they could keep up their traditions and now view them as God-pleasing. As has been discussed here in different contexts (cf. worship services), Christian outreach seems to do best when it trumpets Christianity’s difference, rather than saying, “Oh, yes, we’re just like you pagan folks — we have that holiday, too!”

    Regardless, it is good to focus on the Christian holiday of All Saints, and harmless to celebrate Halloween within reason.

  • http://planetzieroth.com Geremy

    Interesting new idea that started up around here this year, and it goes along with the original intent of the post: One company in our town this year is offering “coffin rides”. They have a coffin hooked up to a motion simulator and you get in and then have the lid closed. The ride simulates a coffins trip from a funeral to the cemetery, being lowered 6 feet into the ground, having dirt thrown on top, and then about a minute of complete silence. For fun, there’s a camera inside so your friends can watch all of your reactions.

    As I told my wife, this is something I’ll do once, but it’ll be real, and it’ll only be my body that goes through it, not me.

    Interesting concepts that people design nowadays.

  • fwsonnek

    The press doesn´t know what to do with religious people.

    It tends therefore to treat them like some monolithic group.

    Interestingly, this is the same way evangelicals tend to view gays and also view liberals.

    This is clear from the use of the term “________ Agenda” . You can fill in the blank with gay, liberal, or conservative. This phrase only works if there is in fact a monolithic group.

    Labels are useful for people who don´t like to think.

    There are conservative and christian gays for example. MANY of them. I am one. I view abortion as murder. I like the idea of small republican (with a small “r”) government. I do not believe marriage and gay marriage are identical things. There are liberals who are against abortion. There are conservatives who think abortions should be legal. The press seems to only like ideas that can fit on a bumper sticker. Ditto vocal gays, conservatives, and liberals.

    We seem trained as americans to look with suspicion for points of disagreement rather than points of agreement. As GK Chesterton points out, Gentlemen who argue seriously, must first agree before they disagree. They must agree on what they agree on to pinpoint honestly what they disagree on.

    Americans, well trained by the press, rarely do the first part and those who do are looked upon as “softheaded” or “vascilating”

    Example: There is NO one who thinks abortions are a great idea, as in “every woman should experience an abortion!” So where is the agreement here? and where is the disagreement?

    Reasonable men and women could reshape this argument in a way that would not result in zero abortions, but could greatly reduce the number of them.

    Is there any set of laws that will ever bring this number down to zero? The nature of this form of murder is such that it can always be done outside of the view of law enforcement. Not so for murder of the born. Practical calculations do not war against moral and religious ideals but must be shaped by them.

    So laws alone will not achieve what we conservatives want here.

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com Robert Perry

    I’d tend to agree with both your student, and you, in certain ways, Dr. Veith. I agree with your (?) student in that the press has been trumpeting the “downfall of the religious right” for decades, it seems.

    On the other hand, the “Willow Creek” and “Emergent” phenomena do seem to indicate that historic theology is being attacked in too many evangelical churches.

    Does agreeing with both of you convict me of “triangulation”? :^)

  • organshoes

    A very interesting paragraph in National Review’s The Corner blog this morning, a response from a self-identified evangelical Christian, who sees the ‘Christian right’ fracturing from its own confused sense of itself.
    These aren’t exactly his words, but mine, in absorbing his meaning.
    Christian conservatives are, as Robert Perry so aptly noted, fractured among the TBN-types, and the Willow Creek/ Purpose-Driven-types. The latter are more progressive socially, and certainly are lavish theologically; more inclined towards following a social-gospel model.
    No brand of Evangelical Christians seems to be of the libertarian, live and let live stripe, but each sees a different way for government to address and answer current problems. For the TBN crowd, it’s prayer in schools, 10 Commandments in public squares, God’s name freely spoken and printed and used in public fora, an end to abortion-on-demand. For the Willow Creek-types, it’s environmentalism and social justice: underwrite the poor with tax dollars, green as government policy and by government fiat. Abortion probably doesn’t register to them as anywhere a #1 issue, just as environmentalism isn’t on the radar of the other side of this one coin.
    The War on Terror is also not an issue among these new evangelicals, but is an important Christian issue to the old-timers.
    Dr. Dobson is irrelevant to Willow Creek; but Joel Osteen and his ilk are not irrelevant to the old-timers, because he and Purpose-Driven Christianity seem so nice and helpful and all.
    In short, a lack of theology does strange things to Christians, turning erstwhile bedfellows into political opposites, all on religious (not theological) grounds.

  • Don S

    That was a very impressive and well researched article, particularly for a liberal media outlet like Slate. Young Mr. Sessions is an early example of the impact that Patrick Henry College is going to have on this country and its discourse as time marches on. I thank God every day that my daughter attends PHC and is a part of this young conservative movement.

    I, in large part, agree with the premise of the article. Evangelicals have never been a monolithic group — many Christians didn’t vote in past years, and southern Christians were historically Democrats in the post-Civil War years and right up into the ’60′s and ’70′s. The “Moral Majority” was really the first attempt to organize evangelicals into a cohesive voting bloc, but its success, I believe, was largely due to the rise of Ronald Reagan, who gave us the kind of inspiring figure we conservatives could rally around (although even in 1980 there was a lot of talk about whether he was “electable).

    Political and theological liberalism has definitely crept in around the edges of the evangelical movement, with the emergent church and a few seeker oriented megachurches, but let’s not forget that the huge Southern Baptist Convention (14 million members) has swung sharply in the conservative direction in the past 25 years. We will coalesce around a single candidate when there is one worthy of coalescing around.

  • Joe

    I don’t believe for a second that their NO people who think abortions are a great idea. I know and work with some young women who view them as an act of liberation; a protest against a patriarchal society who seeks to force them into the kitchen. They are young (mid-twenties) and I hope they grow out of it. But as of today, and they can vote today, they see abortions as not some terrible choice that some women are forced to make, but as liberation.

    Also, while you cannot stop every abortion by passing a law, that is not a reason not to pass the law. Following this logic to its obvious conclusion we should either repeal all laws or enact an automatic death sentence without due process for anyone who violates any law. For those who want to argue that you can legislate morality, I say yes you can and this country has been doing so for about 200 years. It may not change hearts but that is the governments job; it’s the work of the Holy Spirit.

  • tim prussic

    ‘Theocracy’ is a difficult thing to avoid, no? After all, don’t God rule? Further, Christocracy is what the whole Bible is concerned with – the great Messianic rule. Christ is currently ruling at the right hand of his Father, dispensing gifts to his church to equip her to disciple all the nations, and waiting until all he enemies are put under his feet until he returns and puts that last one (death) under himself. So, a Christian’s main calling is to extend Christ’s dominion over every area of life – including politics.

    This notion (or notions resembling it in one way or another) has been applied in really dumb ways (prohibition, anyone?), but the truth of the notion stands. Our ‘theocratic’ principles ought to be our guiding light in politics, as in all things.

    The idol of politics requires us to sacrifice our principles, ethics, and children at the altar of electability. A Christian (read: theocrat) cannot make such a sacrifice.

  • organshoes

    Right on, Joe. Abortion is welcome to many for what it represents, though they certainly have to ignore just exactly what it is.
    And being against abortion is worse, to them, than any abortion itself, or anything abortion actually is, because, you see, to them at least, abortion is a gain. A win.
    Legal abortion represents the power of women, and particularly the power of women over not their own bodies as they claim, but over men.
    Infringing on the rights of women to abort is infringing on the essence of womanhood, i.e., caring, nurturing, protecting. Women have abortions, donchaknow, for the protection of those babies they abort, so they don’t suffer unwantedness, poverty, neglect, etc. And apparently such concerns are only in the femisphere; only women can truly care enough about babies to abort them. Men are incapable of such a level of caring as women intrinsically possess, that would render babies unborn for their own good.

  • fwsonnek

    Joe and Organshoes:

    I have talked to alot of women who are pretty militantly “pro-choice”. I have yet to encounter a case where they cannot be easily led to agree that abortions are the worst possible solution and that anything that would reduce the number of abortions would be a good thing.

    who have you actually TALKED to (as opposed to argued with)?

  • fwsonnek

    Joe:

    “I think abortions are a GREAT idea!!!” “sign me up to have as many as possible, because it makes me feel liberated as a woman!”

    I don´t hear anyone vocalizing things this way. C´mon Joe.

    It is always possible to talk to people in such a way as to push them into a rhetorical or logical corner. You are probably very logical and intelligent and so very good at this. Sometimes this is actually useful in a courtroom or other venues. So that was not a critical comment brother Joe, just an observation.

    I would rather persuade people and make them think outside of their box by first hearing them out and seeking points of agreement.

    True, I seldom get the self-satisfaction of confirming my own opinions and the self affirmation of winning arguments that way. But still…..

    I have helped at least a few women decide in favor of alternatives to abortion. Go figure. Here in Brasil, my home, where abortions are NOT legal, and abortion IS rampant, and botched abortions are quite common (mother and child both die), I hope to do my part to save many more lives. One at a time. Go figure some more.

    This scourge will not go away with criminalization or even REDUCE the number of lives lost. No study as ever indicated this as a likely outcome.

    I can´t argue with the honorable intentions who want laws to reflect what abortion is… murder. Especially when (unlike Bush, et al) :

    (1) there is no escape clause for cases of rapes or incest, and

    (2) women and their doctors face life in prison or the death sentence for abortions.

    This has the virtue of logical and moral consistency

    I know of NO candidate (congressional or presidential) who is pushing for either or both provisions…do you? I would consider voting for that candidate! Tell me who he is!

    Ok Joe and Organshoes: I can find irrational people who confirm my worst suspicions of conservatives, liberals, gays, catholics, mormons, muslims and EVANGELICALS…. cool.

    Ahem….

    My post keyed into this thread by pointing out that there are no monolithic groups that can be “cracked up” and liberals and conservatives hold the same erronious preconceptions that each side is monolithic. David, in the article referred to, sort of makes the same point, but I think he misses the point by too narrowly focussing on evangelicals.

    It seems to me that alot of differences would look different and less stark if we avoided categorizing people and labeling them and listened with more care. But then we would have to think in shades of grey (which need not equate to moral relativism) .

    How do YOUR posts tie back to what Vieth posted pray tell??

  • organshoes

    I doubt the regular liberal-on-the-street understands how strident he or she is about protecting abortion, not as an action, but as a right. I don’t think most of its supporters realize how vigorously they feel about it, because it’s not what abortion is, but what it represents.
    They think they are defending freedom, feminism, and women in general, defending human rights, opposing tyranny of a sort.
    That’s one reason its advocates go so ballistic when pro-lifers attempt to use photos of fetuses, aborted and in the womb, because it makes them have to face what the thing is, beyond all the language they use to defend it. They never describe it, do they? Indeed, they run away from descriptions of abortion-the-action, while they cling to notions of abortion-the-choice, abortion-the-freedom.
    That’s what Joe is saying. Maybe they don’t stand on street corners yelling that abortions are great ideas, but they certainly aren’t lining up to denounce abortion or to advocate adoption or motherhood. Their aim is to protect abortion-on-demand as a right, and they do so by disregarding and even denouncing alternatives to it.
    That’s why hearts and minds are the only useful solutions to abortion. Anyone who thinks re-criminalizing the practice will eliminate it or even change people’s minds about it is as deluded as the advocate who believes abortion has a humane side.

  • Joe

    My post does not tie back to Dr. Veith’s and it was not intended to. You made a statement that in my experience is demonstrably false so I responded to it. The two women I work with are not the only ones I could cite to. I also knew very well several women who ran the Women’s Center at the school where I got my undergraduate degree. They expressed move than several times that abortion was not some horrible last resort but that it was a good, positive thing. You see they don’t think it is a child so why would it carry a negative moral connotation for them. There is nothing irrational about their position. They don’t believe it is a human thus there is no moral problem. It is simply something they can do if they chose.

    Lets also not forget that Ms. Magazine was able to compile a list of over 5,000 women who were willing to sign their name to a statement that they did not regret having an abortion. Some of the women said it was a hard decision but others said stuff like this:

    “I wanted to do something bigger with myself — I didn’t want to be stopped by anything,” she said in a telephone interview.

    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/15119353/wid/11915773?GT1=8618

    That does not say I was really distraught, I had no options; its says, this kid was messing up my plans and thank the devil I could just kill it and move on.

    Sadly, I think you are giving the pro-abortion side of the debate too much credit as a whole. I do not dispute that there are many women who truly felt they had no other option and who have life long emotional angst over the choice they made. But likewise you should recognize that their others who had abortion and think it was a positive life changing moment for them. They exist.

    You should also refrain from deciding how I do and do not discuss abortion with people. Your assumption that I am fighting with or badgering the women I mentioned is absurd. These are my co-workers not my enemies. We don’t line up on opposite sides of the office and yell at each other or argue. We talk, rationally and calmly. These are their views without trickery or logical traps. It is just how they think. I am not actually surprised; one of them was a women’s studies major in college.

  • Greg

    It is not just the Evangelical Right that is cracking up but the whole American Right. The Right is an incredibly diverse movement that was cobbled togeather out of the common ground of anti-communism. The collapse of the communist threat made the disolution of the right inevitable. It is only a wonder that it took so long. Attempts to substitute anti-jihadism for anti-communism have only been marginally successful.

  • fwsonnek

    JOE:

    “You should also refrain from deciding how I do and do not discuss abortion with people. Your assumption that I am fighting with or badgering the women I mentioned is absurd.”

    I did not make that assumption.

    I dont think any of the women you talked to would say they would like to experience more abortions or have them on regular basis, or that they would like to see more women get pregnant with the goal of experiencing the “positive parts” of having an abortion.

    Just because they dont TELL you they feel angst or remorse or even that it was the right or positive decision for them does not mean you can or should infer from that, that they think abortions are a great idea and every woman should experience it at least once.

    I am still not hearing this even in what you are quoting Joe. Am I missing something?

    I am still waiting for someone to point me to a TRUE antiabortion candidate who makes no exceptions for rape or incest and would move for it to be prosecuted as premeditated murder. I DO ASSUME you are with me on the definition of a true antiabortion candidate?

  • Joe

    I agree it is premeditated murder and the doctors and the mother should go to jail. I really do believe that.

    I guess I can never satisfy you as I have not yet developed the ability to read peoples minds – so all I can do is take them at their word when they tell me they think abortion is the greatest thing since sliced bread.

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