So it’s been two weeks since Doan bought a boat-load of Halloween candy, including two giant bags of fun-sized Snickers, my favorite, though there’s nothing fun about fun-sized Snickers. I want full-sized Snickers, or better yet, King-Sized Snickers. “In 1998, a Colorado handyman was snowmobiling in the mountains outside of Steamboat Springs when he got swept up in an avalanche that buried his vehicle and left him stranded in a blizzard. Provisioned with nothing more than two butane lighters and a Snickers bar, the man endured 40 mph winds and near-zero temperatures for five days and four nights as rescue teams struggled to locate him. Luckily, the Snickers bar he’d carried was the king-sized version. Every one of its 510 calories helped him persevere through the course of his ordeal.”1 I just want to be prepared in case of avalanche.
Anyway, were a couple days out from Halloween, and because around this time I get lots of questions about Halloween (on top of Olivia Brovak’s excellent Halloween question at Ask Fr. Matt), I figured I might answer a couple of them here.
Halloween is a bit of a mash up, all things considered. The origins of how it is presently celebrated go back to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced sa-win, and not just Glenn Danzig’s next band after he left the Misfits). The Celts celebrated November 1st as their new year, and so Samhain was essentially New Year’s Eve. They believed “that on the night before the new year, the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead became blurred.” And that ghosts would walk the earth.
“In addition to causing trouble and damaging crops, Celts thought that the presence of the otherworldly spirits made it easier for the Druids, or Celtic priests, to make predictions about the future. To commemorate the event, Druids built huge sacred bonfires, where the people gathered to burn crops and animals as sacrifices to the Celtic deities. During the celebration, the Celts wore costumes, typically consisting of animal heads and skins, and attempted to tell each other’s fortunes.”2 Just to be clear, all of this stuff is bad.
Fast forward to May 13, 609 A.D. “Pope Boniface IV dedicated the Pantheon in Rome in honor of all Christian martyrs, and the Catholic feast of All Martyrs Day was established in the Western church. Pope Gregory III later expanded the festival to include all saints as well as all martyrs, and moved the observance from May 13 to November 1.”3 All Saints’ Day. And since the Saints are holy, the day was also called All Hallows’ Day, and so the day before could, in theory, be called All Hallows’ Eve or All Hallow’s Even, or, just to make it easy, Hallowe’en. The observance of Halloween, All Saints’ Day, and All Souls’ Day on November 2, is called Hallowtide, the days of the dead, a time to honor and pray for those who have gone before us. Just to be clear, all this stuff is good.
Now, some Christians don’t celebrate Halloween, thinking it just a pagan holiday and giving it up to the secular bonanza it is today. I think that’s a shame, because Halloween is a Christian day and can be both sugar-filled fun and edifying to the faithful. That doesn’t mean there aren’t a few things to avoid.
Let me think of a few. Ouija boards, fortune tellers, divination, casting spells, horoscopes, and mediums come to mind, as does using sacred spaces like graveyards to get a cheap scare. Remember that there is a dark side, evil does exist, and when you ask the universe or the dead or a Ouija board or a medium a question, you might get an answer, but the person answering is not God. The reason we’re warned about these things in not that they’re not real but because they are, and they invite bad things into our lives. Just to be clear, all this stuff is bad.
Let me think of a few things to do this week. Pray for the dead – write down the names of your beloved dead on the All Souls Intentions sheets we have in the back or by the office. Celebrate the Saints, as they pray for us and have set wonderful examples for us. Dress up the kids on Halloween, preferably in a costume that doesn’t celebrate evil or suffocate them like those old plastic masks I had when I was a kid, and go get lots of candy. I’ll be picking up some King-sized Snickers to give out, just in case any of you get caught in an avalanche.