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Blog // Thoughts
October 31, 2007

All Hallow’s Eve

“Adult societies – human societies – are in dialogue with death. The infantile society pretends death does not exist, or is someone else’s fault, or a punishment for doing something wrong. But the infantile society is paradoxically mired deeper in dialogue with death than any other.” Robert Pogue Harrison Halloween is big business. It’s fast […]

“Adult societies – human societies – are in dialogue with death. The infantile society pretends death does not exist, or is someone else’s fault, or a punishment for doing something wrong. But the infantile society is paradoxically mired deeper in dialogue with death than any other.”
Robert Pogue Harrison

Halloween is big business. It’s fast becoming a commercial rival to Christmas, at least in terms of expenditure on food and decoration and the largely North American traditions are being exported across the globe creating new markets and fresh profits. Moreover, the rising popularity of Halloween is inspiring some Christians – inspiring them to stage cultural protests, to write books (and talks and blogs and radio-rants…) suggesting that Halloween is a massive manifestation of evil (and yet further proof that everything outside the four-walled sanctuary of the church is a seething gateway to hell).

Or, to put it another way, Halloween is another front in the culture wars.

It’s worth remembering that our current date for Halloween comes from a mediaeval European marriage of the Catholic High day for remembering the deceased and the Pagan late Autumn festival. This adoption of a local primitive festivity as a date to host a Church celebration means that Halloween shares a tradition that also encompasses Christmas and Easter.

Moreover, the commemoration of the dead, together with quiet vigil and fasting was supposed to have an important theological significance. It reminded us of our own destiny and inspired thankfulness for those who lived before us. If this kind of veneration of the dead shocks us today, then it is largely because death has been cordoned off from the typical rhythms of life (today, the acceptable venerations are largely militaristic). In this way our lives are radically different from those of mediaeval times, when life expectancy was short, infant mortality rampant and the chances of surviving disease, serious injury or even childbirth were poor.

But, death’s grip on our psyche is still strong, which is why it captures our imagination not just at Halloween, but in popular culture as a whole; in film, music and art. At the same time that some churches speak against the death-imagery in Halloween celebrations, others employ hyper-violent computer games as a way to reach youth. Let’s face it, how many Christians take pleasure in movies that are little more than war-porn and delight in the moral contortions of the TV shows like 24? There’s more than a passing scent of hypocrisy in the air.

Halloween as a season gives us permission to talk about death, darkness and fear; it is a macabre satire. It even gives us a chance to rail against the false and infantalising marginalisation of human finality in our society. At it’s best, Halloween can help us pick apart our psyche and discriminate between childlike fears and fantasies and genuinely grown-up concerns and evils. Yes, Halloween brings us face-to-face with darkness – which is not a bad thing in a culture with such a santised outlook on life, where perpetual youthfulness is worshipped and where anything approaching melancholy is pharmacologically removed.

Not everything in the consumer culture of Halloween should be embraced and of course, it is a season for responsible parenting. But, I wonder if Halloween sometimes creates a problem for some simply because it lays open how child-like their faith really is – the preening confidence of youth wrapped up in religious language. Halloween is a time to remember that life really can be ugly, evil and dark and that we need grace to extend to the depths of our fears – the fears we normally are unable to articulate.

Luke Skywalker: I won’t fail you. I’m not afraid.
Yoda: You will be. You will be.
The Empire Strikes Back

[tags] Halloween [/tags]

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Responses
Paul 15 years ago

i think the remembering of the dead, those gone before us is so vital, particularly in our western individualistic setting, where we often act as if we just appeared out of thin air and will then disappear again in due course. It is one of the things that i most appreciate about the church celebration of all saints sunday, the connection with our past and the ordinary people who lived and died ordinary lives to pass on their faith.

I am still troubled by the consumer fest that is halloween, that feels the greater evil rather than reflecting on death…

Paul 15 years ago

now i have a craving to watch starwars too, i’m so easily infleunced 🙂

Fernando Gros 15 years ago

Paul – I agree the excess consumerism is a worry. Interestingly though, that’s not what I’m seeing churches react against.

Paul 15 years ago

lol, do fish know they are in water? 🙂

Fernando Gros 15 years ago

well, they sure seem to know when they are out of it.

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