Jimmy and Simcha and Me on Halloween

Jimmy and Simcha and Me on Halloween October 24, 2012

Jimmy Akin put up a fun vid on scary Halloween costumes here.

And then Simcha wrote a piece which, for me, needs nothing more than the title to make it the greatest Catholic Halloween post of all time: “Do Brains Break the Communion Fast?”

For my own take on Halloween, go here.

And, by the way, sorry to be such a buzzkill for triumphalist neo-pagans and panicky fundamentalists on one of their biggest anti-Catholic recruiting nights of the year, but all that stuff you hear each year about the True Pagan Origins of Halloween that everybody knows except for dumb ignorant Catholics who don’t know anything about the True Pagan Origins of the Catholic Faith? Turns out everybody’s wrong.

Not that I have any particular objections to the Church’s ability to absorb and redeem the best of ancient pre-Christian cultures. Big fan here. Wrote a whole chapter about it in Mary, Mother of the Son (soon to be re-released by Marytown Press! Watch this space!). But as with the alleged “pagan origins of Christmas” meme there’s a whole lot less than meets the eye going on with Halloween.

Next time somebody tells you that Christianity is nothing but warmed over paganism, ask them about the huge central Christian feasts we will all be celebrating at the Summer Solstice and Autumn Equinox. Also, ask them why the biggest feast of all falls, not on the Spring Equinox, but whenever Passover happens to fall. Why, it’s almost as though Christianity is what it always understood itself to be: the fulfilment of a specifically Jewish revelation and only incidently and accidently related to the myths, feasts and legends of paganism. That might even have something to do with why the New Testament evinces essentially no interest in pagan culture beyond a couple of random quotes from Epimenides and Aratus but is intensely interested in Jewish scripture and tradition.

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  • The thing that gets me the most about the “pagan origins of Christianity” is the implied judgment that there would be something terribly wrong with Christianity if it shared anything with pre-Christian religions. But as the Fathers of the Church knew well (recall Augustine and the “spoils of Egypt”), God’s covert revelation of himself in Creation means that OF COURSE other religions have insight into the divine! If anything, the argument should work the other way around: if Christianity *didn’t* share anything with other religions, it would be cause for concern about the truth of Christianity.

    If God is truly the Creator and Sustainer of all that exists, it is only logical that everyone should have at least some limited perception of that reality (and this is why G.K. Chesterton and C.S. Lewis argued that pagan society is better than atheistic society). When pre-Christians celebrated annual feasts of light in midwinter and thanksgiving at the renewal of spring and the harvest, it was because they perceived that God had blessed them with creation. When they honored the souls of their dead, it was because they perceived, however dimly, that our souls perdure.

  • Dominic

    why do you have to write like such a wise-ass?

    • Mark Shea

      Cuz I’m a wise ass?

      • Rob B.

        Mr. Shea, you are one of the wisest asses I know… 🙂

      • antigon

        All very well & good. But do to coat your hair with Vaseline and make chicken noises at high noon?

  • This last Sunday, when we were walking back to the church after Children’s Liturgy of the Word, one little kid (about 8 years old) said to me that his teacher had told him all about how Halloween got started. I asked him to tell me what the teacher said. He parroted exactly what you refer to in your article. With a smile, I flatly told him, “Your teacher is incorrect — it is a Christian observance.” He was stunned. “But my teacher said…” I then told him, “Perhaps your teacher is not aware of that it was to do with celebrating All Saints Day. Perhaps she is not a Christian.” I explained what “hallows” was, etc. Because I had to give him a quick answer — in about 90 seconds — not sure if my words were helpful. Poor kid. Now he’s wondering who’s correct — this teacher or the one at his regular school.

  • Saint Patrick replaced many Pagan festivals in Ireland with Christians Festivals. He did not absorb the Pagan ones into the Christian ones

  • It’s hard to take the American tradition of Halloween as any sort of religious festival. Most of my memories involve stuffing my face with cheap candy while wearing a cheap plastic costume! Where’s the deep meaning in that?

  • liz

    Holloween as it celebrated in US is not a celebration of All Hallow’s eve. I am all for dressing up, and dressing up as monsters, and I let the kids do it and pretend whenever they’d like for no random reason. But I think we need to take back our holiday and celebrate All Hallow’s eve in a more appropiate way, like going to mass, or I’ll even take dressing up as saints but also talking about them. I’m for and All Saints Day Party and only allowed to come if you’re dressed like a saint, otherwise you don’t have to dress up at all, just be yourself, a saint in the making.

  • American halloween is still mostly tied to Catholicism, one way or the other. The costumes are from French carnivale, the most iconic decorations from Irish All Hallows Eve, and the trick or treating in recognition of the only man to enter English Parliament with honest intentions.

  • Terri

    For us, Halloween is more like Independence Day or New Year’s Eve. Trick-or-treating isn’t religious. :0) That said, the kids know why it’s called Halloween and the significance of the next day. For me, the bottom line is that a jovial Halloween celebration and a solemn observance of All Saints Day do not have to be mutually exclusive. We can have both. –And we don’t do scary costumes. That’s just my preference as a mom.