[I apologize that this post has graphic parts.]
In my last post, I said that tradition, in and of itself, should be reason to continue something.
This was a generalization, and I allow myself generalizations all the time (another generalization actually) because a person can’t say or think much of anything without generalizations. As a matter of fact, a lot of thinking is the process of identifying the connections between the things that you’ve observed in order to find the rules and the truths behind these things – before you know it, you’ve got another generalization.
In argument, people will say, “that’s a generalization,” but I don’t consider it a bad word. How can we speak without them? And in particular, how can we speak about important things without them? “I’m healthy” is a generalization, if you want to be really picky.
Having said that, you still feel a little uncomfortable making them, because you know that you are leaving room for someone to come along and attack: “Aha! You said everyone looks great in periwinkle, but I know someone who looks just terrible in it! Shame on you! Flagrant lies!” (I do think everyone looks good in periwinkle.) And then of course sometimes it’s not someone else who points out the exceptions – you have to do it yourself. That’s what I’m doing now, because I’m all set to attack Hallowe’en, especially the way it is currently being celebrated.
Hallowe’en is an example of a tradition that has strayed so far from its origin that it has become something else. So you could argue that the tradition has been broken, or else you could say that it’s a case where tradition is not enough of a reason to continue. Either way, the final message is the same. My final message is that it’s not something to celebrate.
There are a number of reasons people participate in Hallowe’en. Here are a few that come to mind:
In the first place, parents have happy memories of Hallowe’en activities from when they were children, and they want to pass along something that was a source of so many of their own memories.
In the second place, parents like to make their children happy. Hallowe’en is full of many things which children like: the child gets a costume and goes out in the evening, either with friends or family, to collect candies. It’s fun to go around the neighbourhood (or the shopping mall in some areas) seeing the interesting costumes that others are wearing, guessing who’s who, interacting with lots of people. There are so many ingredients in this recipe which promise an enjoyable evening preceded by days and weeks of anticipation. The parents want to give them these happy experiences.
The third reason is that it is such a widespread event that it seems too big to avoid – the schools, stores and homeowners promote it in various ways. On the evening of October 31, there is no place that you can go where it won’t be abundantly clear that it’s Hallowe’en; if you go to a restaurant or store, for example, the waitresses and store clerks will be dressed in some sort of costume. When something is so widespread, how can you not go along with it?
The fourth reason is that most people enjoy celebrations, and Hallowe’en will offer you whatever kind of party that you happen to like: you can go to see fireworks as a family after the trick-or-treating is done, you can get together for parties, or you can hit the bars or nightclubs. And, like many celebrations, you can decorate. People who like home decorating welcome the chance to decorate according to a new theme. You can serve up Hallowe’en-themed baking too.
All of this sounds rather pleasant, harmless and good. It seems like just another celebration – perhaps it’s something like Christmas.
But of course, it’s not like Christmas.
Not at all.
It is, in fact, a very unusual evening, an evening unlike anything else that we have on our calendar.
The best way to approach this is to talk about symbols.
To choose symbols as a starting point might seem rather odd, because the notion of symbols has the appearance of being very vague and subjective. Perhaps I should start with the facts, such as the paucity of chocolate in the chocolate bars.
But you cannot discuss Hallowe’en properly without discussing the symbols associated with it.
And besides, symbols are actually very simple and ordinary – to humans. Animals don’t rely on symbols, but humans are highly symbolic beings. We use language to represent something else, as a very basic example. We use symbols to express mathematical concepts. We make music, we dance, we sing, we build monuments which represent other things. As Chesterton says, the human activities which are less ‘practical’ demonstrate the greatness of the human being.
Paintings and photographs are representations of something else, and are symbolic in that way. The Protestants misunderstand us when they think that Catholics are worshipping statues or other religious art in our churches. These are mainly reminders, in the way that a family will cherish a portrait of grandma. Seeing the picture reminds us of this person who isn’t on earth anymore. Or the photo might show someone as a child – so cute! It’s the same person, but in miniature! These are wholesome and healthy things.
We like these representations because we like the original. We can’t keep the beach, so we take a picture of it to bring home with us, so that we can sort of ‘keep’ the beach. It’s the whole point of memorabilia – souvenirs sell because people are so happy to be where they are that they want something to remember it by. When you think of it, those souvenirs often represent so much of what is lovely and noble about the human spirit: someone, once upon a time, was in a place that they really thought was beautiful, and they were feeling very happy and perhaps they felt like they would want to stay there forever, but they knew that they in fact couldn’t be there forever. In experiencing that feeling, they tried to find some object, some symbol, that was, to their eye, beautiful, which could stand as a replacement and representative for that moment, and that place.
Unfortunately, most of these objects don’t stand the test of time well and can’t quite live up to the expectations that are placed upon them. The day ultimately comes when this ‘object d’art’ will need to move along. Decluttering is marvellous free entertainment.
But anyway, back to the symbols.
Symbols are not actually difficult for people to understand. As a matter of fact, they are a highly efficient way of communicating. A picture is worth a thousand words, as they say. With one symbol, you can communicate mood and emotion and several ideas at once. Fireworks, for example, suggest so many things: celebration, excitement, happiness, joy, anticipation, fulfillment, drama, surprise, jubilation and so on. And even a photo of fireworks can represent the same mood.
Chesterton points out that when we step out of the world of symbols (here I can’t resist pointing out that he refers to the crashing of cymbals, which ties in nicely here – cymbals symbols cymbals symbols cymbals . . .) then we are left with the drier and more ‘logical’ things. But if someone pulls out a spreadsheet, or whips out a 40,000 word encyclical, then the average person gets overwhelmed. Sure, we could get though it, eventually, but it’s not how humans operate most of the time:
No one, perhaps, but a sociologist can see whether General Booth’s housing scheme is right. But any healthy person can see that banging brass cymbals together must be right. A page of statistics, a plan of model dwellings, anything which is rational, is always difficult for the lay mind. But the thing which is irrational any one can understand . . .
– G.K. Chesterton, Heretics, Chapter VI
This is not to say that Chesterton discounts reason or being rational. On the contrary, he praises these things “presence of mind is always more poetical than absence of mind” and praises the Catholic Church for valuing and defending reason. (“I know that people always charge the Church with lowering reason, but it is just the other way. Alone on earth, the Church makes reason really supreme. Alone on earth, the Church affirms that God Himself is bound by reason.” Those are the words spoken by Father Brown in “The Blue Cross.”)
You can’t understand people if you can’t see their poetic or spiritual side. Even the most scientific, mathematical person is not putting everything to a strict scientific or mathematical proof, thank God.
And here Chesterton reminds us that we rely on our impressions a lot more than we even realize:
“Bosh,” he said, “On what else is the whole world run but immediate impressions? What is more practical? My friend, the philosophy of this world may be founded on facts, but its business is run on spiritual impressions and atmospheres.”
– The Club of Queer Trades, Chapter II: “The Painful Fall of a Great Reputation”
So let’s survey the symbols (I started to type ‘cymbals’!) that we find associated with Hallowe’en.
Well, we’ve got ghosts, skeletons and skulls, spiders and cobwebs, black cats, jack-o’-lanterns, headstones and grave markers, devils, witches and wizards, blood and vampires, to give a partial list.
Who is so clueless as to not understand these symbols? They are about evil and death.
Now a word about death. It’s always a very powerful notion, no matter what your spiritual point of view is.
“For one of zem is dead upstairs.”
There was a shocking stillness for an instant in that room. It may be (so supernatural is the word death) that each of those idle men looked for a second at his soul, and saw it as a small dried pea . . .
– G.K. Chesterton, The Innocence of Father Brown, “The Queer Feet”
But it has different appearances depending on your religious views. From a Christian perspective, death is solemn and understandably sad, but it has a joyous side, because death is also a door to heaven. Death is a renewal, a birth to a new life. Easter is about Christ’s victory over death, which he shares with us.
But the death which is celebrated at Hallowe’en is not one which is followed by a resurrection. Instead, death is glorified as an end in itself, and if there is a suggestion of an afterlife, then it is a hellish one, featuring demons and ghosts.
In a way, this all makes sense. It’s not surprising that there would be these spiritual symbols, because Hallowe’en precedes the Feast of All Saints on November 1. It’s therefore a holy night, a holy evening, a hallowed evening, a hallowed e’en. It’s supposed to spiritual, but in a good sense.
Old fairy tales will mention that spiritual things happened at midnight of October 31, just before it became November 1, and usually these things were spiritually negative. The idea in those stories is that the souls of those who have died are somehow ‘awakened’ on this day.
The proper way to honour the vigil of the All Saints feast would be to take it as a special opportunity to pray to the saints to request their intercession for our friends and family and to thank them for their good lives while on heaven and their continuing help while they are in heaven. It’s a day not just for one saint, but for all of them. It’s the difference between one little birthday party at one house and a block party where everyone is there.
It would be interesting to journey back in time and observe the celebration of Hallowe’en in centuries past. I am guessing here, but I suspect that, like many religious holy days (holidays), we had the pious elements mingled with the playful elements — which is fine – and as long as the culture was Christian, the pious elements gave a structure to the playful. Now that the culture has drifted away from its Christian roots, the culture can’t retain the spiritual good, but it keeps the spiritual impulses. And here’s where the problem is – the spirituality has been swapped and is of a different sort entirely. Decay has set in. What was a good impulse has become an evil one. What was once playful has become increasingly sinister, though it needs to still be disguised as playful. After all, the witch in Hansel and Gretel needed the candy-covered house in order to entice the children.
I picture some fungus growing on food. There is still growth, there is still development, but it is not of a healthy sort. The fungus thrives instead of the food.
In the same way, Hallowe’en is growing like never before, but it is the fungus that grew out of a good thing.
It is this vein that I pursue.
Let me start with the sexualization of children, which is a huge problem in our society, but which becomes extreme at Hallowe’en. Several years ago, I was at London Drugs looking through the costumes because I needed costumes to use in an unrelated event.
I found the children’s costumes and I was stunned. For girls, there were all types of provocative costumes and accessories. I exclaimed to the nearby employee, “What’s going on with the costumes? Why are they so raunchy?” He said, “Yeah, I know. Last year, they only had those types of costumes in the adult sizes; this year they made them for the kids.” He went on to say, “I don’t have children, but if I did, I wouldn’t want them to wear these.”
You don’t need to have children to see what’s going on.
At that moment, I decided I wanted nothing more to do with Hallowe’en. Until then, I had been leaving out candy.
And since then, I’ve seen a lot more costumes along this theme. How can we support Hallowe’en when it contributes to the sexualization of children?! It is a foolish parent who would allow his or her daughter to get dolled up in one of these suggestive costumes and then praise her appearance as if she’s now so cute or attractive.
Please, let’s not give children the message that “hot” outfits are the same as“pretty” ones.
And then, of course, the boys who aren’t going for gore have despicable choices themselves. “Pimp” is a costume that you can buy. And even if you don’t buy the costume, it’s there on display in the store. “Mommy, what is a ‘pimp’?” It’s no excuse to say that the children already know such terms. There’s a world of difference between children whispering or snickering over what is shameful, and otherwise-sensible parents calmly forking over money for a costume which should never have been made in the first place or for a store to even keep that on hand, as if it’s nothing more than a dolphin costume. It’s not cute and it’s not funny.
Now let me talk about decorations. As I said, it is normal behaviour to surround ourselves with representations of the things that we like. But it is abnormal and unhealthy behaviour to surround ourselves with what we hate.
And to test whether we hate these things, just consider how we would feel if we woke up on November 1, and discovered that all the plastic Made in China decorations that were put out in the past few weeks or days had suddenly become real. There’s the mangled stub of a man’s arm. There’s a skull on the front lawn. There’s blood on the window. We would hate that.
Gather for me all the housewives who are ornamenting their houses with large black spiders and tell me how many of them would be delighted to have that same spider come to life? Find me those homeowners who would be pleased to see that their home actually has large swaths of cobwebs.
Of course nobody likes these things in real life! It’s one more sign that this isn’t a typical celebration. Ordinary people are giving pride of place to what is ugly and distasteful.
Christians, who are given this passage:
Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
— Philippians 4:8
are nevertheless setting out symbols of Hallowe’en.
Only at Hallowe’en will you find homeowners who are trying to strike some kind of compromise between beauty and what is disgusting; they attempt to decorate with spiders ‘tastefully.’ They have little orange lights and a garland of orange tulle, with black spiders daintily creeping across them. Or else they hang a fall-themed wreath on their front door which features autumnal leaves accented with a few eyeballs or skulls.
I made the mistake of surveying what was on display at Michael’s craft store for those who want to purchase Hallowe’en decorations, and there were so many things! In early August the eyeball wreaths were there, and by now there are more than two aisles worth of items. You can buy cupcakes with hatchet-knife decorations, all kinds of coffins, candles which drip blood, and framed photographs where people turn to corpses when viewed from a different angle. You can buy white shower curtains streaked with blood and all manner of witch-themed accessories.
I know that humour is one of the justifications for all of this. “But it’s funny! Have a sense of humour!” Some people laugh at horror movies; they see how the directors and technicians strive to create a certain mood and the entire thing seems farcical. They laugh at the special effects.
I don’t really need to discuss such movies, because those who watch them are consenting to watch them. Presumably, the audience is getting what they bargained for. (This is not to say that consent is the only arbiter of what is moral, but it’s one factor.)
You don’t get consent, however, with Hallowe’en ‘humour,’ if you want to call it that. It means that the four-year-old boy walking down his street gets a gruesome shock when he wasn’t sitting down to watch a horror flick. It means that everyone entering a craft store has to wade past the gore. Recently I was speaking with WiseOne who had been near such decorations and even without seeing them, she experienced a strange kind of fatigue, which she wasn’t able to escape for several hours, until she said the Chaplet of Divine Mercy.
Hallowe’en decorations are offensive because they are insensitive. In my neighbourhood many years ago, there was a woman who, in a severe state of mental illness, attacked her own child with a weapon. The police attended and for a while, you could see the crime scene tape on the front porch.
In many instances where this tape is used, something terrible or even tragic has occurred. It is no laughing matter, and we know that.
Yet how is it that it’s funny, during Hallowe’en, to decorate with a replica of this tape? The word “Caution” is written in drippy black letters, and it’s a popular decoration.
Similarly, imagine if someone arrived in Canada after witnessing the aftermath of a war or brutalization or cruelty towards friends and family? How would such a person feel upon seeing that skulls and gravestones are adorning the front lawns of our suburbs? And would she feel better if we said, “Oh, never mind that – it’s just a joke”?
Aren’t we ridiculing the human person and the human body when we decorate our homes with replicas of body parts?
Now having said this, I am not advocating that everyone should always feel comfortable all the time, and that we should adjust things whenever someone complains. It’s impossible and undesirable to always make everyone feel comfy, but in the case of Hallowe’en, even the people who are displaying these unsightly things dislike the real versions of what they represent. At least, most people would recoil at the real versions.
There are the others, who don’t care if some people dislike them, or who are even pleased that they are able to spark feelings of revulsion. That would mean success, by their standards.
A person who is hardened, whose conscience is almost dead, no longer has the same reaction as a normal person.
Consider, for instance, how the average person dislikes talking about certain subjects while eating. We don’t want to hear about the healthy functioning of internal organs while eating, for example. If someone were to start describing the biological processes that are occurring in your body (“now your gall bladder is secreting bile, now your stomach is releasing gastric acids . . .”) then you would wonder what is wrong with them. And that’s eating. If they were to describe other processes, also healthy, further along the digestive line, we’d be even more displeased. But if someone were to talk about dysfunctional processes while you were eating, then you’d really be annoyed. If you were to hear a description of certain bodily fluids, for example, the meal would come to an abrupt end.
All of this would be a sign that you’re normal, and that you have natural reactions.
I am not exactly sure why we dislike the combination of the two things. Is it a gag reflex that kicks in? Gagging and eating don’t blend well. Or perhaps it’s the active imagination, which suddenly transfers the undesirable image to our very fork and plate? Now we’re not just talking about something gross; we’re eating it, with Chianti on the side.
This is part of why everyone was so appalled when the undercover tapes were released, showing an abortion doctor explaining to someone how to do an abortion in order to maximize the profits. This corporation, “Planned Parenthood” makes millions upon millions by collecting government grants. They act as if they care about the women, but the truth is that they care about the money – a lot.
In the tape, a woman — [whose name has now been used more than enough, and whose privacy now I want to defend, see Post 65], spoke about such matters.
She thought she was at lunch with a friend and spoke about such things – her lunch companion seemed to find, oddly enough, that these were interesting topics for a lunch meeting and she obliged.
Like everyone else, I thought she was so hardened that she didn’t mind talking like this during lunch.
However, perhaps she herself was grossed out, but was given the impression that her dinner companion wanted to hear more about it. (Little did she realize that he had a motive for this choice of topic – video camera running.) Perhaps she herself was grossed out, but was given the impression that her dinner ‘friend’ would be impressed by a blasé and nonchalant attitude towards the whole thing, and so she laughed and smiled, on the outside. (Men, you have no idea what good actors we women are!)
In any case, let’s all leave that lunch table alone now. We’ve been there long enough. I’m sorry that you were videotaped without your knowledge. I wish that had not happened to you, and on behalf of all pro-lifers, let me say, that was wrong, and does not represent a fair treatment of you by this movement. He does not stand for, nor represent all of us. Let justice be done to him.
When the damaged bodies of aborted babies arrive at the labs of pharmaceutical companies, and the lab technicians open the boxes, they occasionally “freak out” upon seeing that this is the body of a dead baby. Sometimes they scream, and sometimes they faint.
In order to reduce such reactions, lab managers do damage control – one precaution is to alert the staff ahead of time that such a package is on its way, and the other is to request that the hands and feet be removed from the bodies. Leave on the limbs, is what the memo said, but we don’t need to have “specimens” arrive with hands and feet. It’s on LifeSite News if you’re curious. [Blogger’s note March 8, 2016 – I am no longer sure how credible LifeSite “News” is as a source, but that’s where I got it.]
And you know why they ask for the hands and feet to be removed ahead of time: if you don’t see hands and feet, then the baby doesn’t look so much like a human baby. When you see human hands and feet that are tiny and perfect, you know it’s a person, just like you. A ribcage or a spine doesn’t speak to us, but a hand does. Chesterton talked about the human hand:
[F]or those three human fingers are more magical than any magic figures; the three fingers which hold the pen and the sword and the bow of the violin; the very three fingers that the priest lifts in benediction at the emblem of the Blessed Trinity.
– Autobiography, Chapter II
The lab technician’s reaction is not overblown or hysterical. What she has received in that box is something she should not receive.
The workers in the abortion labs also sometimes faint, as they follow orders to ‘prepare’ the bodies of these babies. They are used to abortions, but they aren’t necessarily hardened against this!
Seeing those little hands is seeing the truth that this is a human person. All those scientific words intended to alienate us from the growing baby – “embryo,” “fetus,” “tissue”– disappear in the presence of those tiny hands and feet. And indeed, when we talk about the beauty and the uniqueness of a person, we will sometimes talk about how everyone’s fingerprint is entirely unique.
So obviously, if we don’t want to think about what we’re really doing, then we better not see those little fingers and toes!
But if it’s Hallowe’en, then bring them on?
Apparently, during Hallowe’en, these kinds of things are desirable to purchase and display. In my neighbourhood, I saw some bright red gel adhesives ornamenting a home during Hallowe’en. They looked like bloody handprints. And they weren’t just any handprints; they were tiny, so that you recognize them as the handprints of a murdered or maimed child.
Or you can purchase a string of skeletal hands – a garland, if you will. Choose your size: you can have the hands of an adult or the hands of a child. Or you can buy oven-mitts showing skeletal hands on them. An object such as that is arguably worse even though it is less public, because it’s even more likely that such an object would survive the event and be used long after the date. And of course there are rows of skulls, if you would like the appearance of a mass grave.
It’s all supposed to be in the spirit of fun. Those who complain are out-of-date party-poopers who don’t have a sense of humour. A natural reaction to things that are gruesome is scorned. Prove you’re a ‘grown up’ by taking these things in stride; laugh them off.
And desensitized adults forget what it’s like to be a child. They begin to imagine that seeing gruesome things is a normal part of growing up. Gore is treated as almost an inevitable reality of life, and there isn’t any restraint in sharing these things with children.
It’s become so commonplace that we do not take responsibility for what we are showing the young. Indeed, there is almost a scramble to be the first to display on your front step the skull crawling with vermin. And being neighborly on Hallowe’en almost seems to mean devising the most frightening display on the block.
HelpfulOne once said that it’s an assault on the innocence of children, and I agree. A child’s worldview is so much purer and sweeter than ours, and damage is done to their intellects, emotions and souls with exposure to these images. We steal their childhood from them in so many ways, and this is one of them.
We are hardening the children who see these things. We are sending them a message that these gruesome and gory sights are not only acceptable, but actually enjoyable. In so doing, we dull their sense of empathy for those who suffer violence.
So I’d say, don’t participate.
Now I know that some will protest all of this.
“Our family is not like that at all! We use only nice costumes, and the kids have a special family-time with Daddy when they carve pumpkins. And we didn’t even use cobwebs this year, we just dangled a few cute ghosts on our tree and raked our leaves into the Hallowe’en-themed bags. We always keep it child-friendly!”
And of course, I agree that the less ghoulish you go, the better. The more wholesome you can make such an event, the better.
But on the other hand, we can’t minimize the significance of our own participation by pointing to someone else who does it in a more gory fashion. It’s the same event.
A crowd is made up of one person and one family at a time, and if you participate in it, then you are helping to glorify what Hallowe’en glorifies. Buying candy, handing it out, suspending normal activities in order to let Hallowe’en take centre stage, dressing in costume, buying decorations, setting them out – all of these are ways of supporting what Hallowe’en has become.
If you want to make memories for your children, don’t make them connected to Hallowe’en, because it is an unstable tradition. It is no longer taking its cues from the Feast of All Souls. It has become unhinged from that holy day, and it is becoming the focal point of paganism at its worst. Paganism at its worst involved the worshipping of Satan and the sacrifice of children. Children were abandoned or murdered in order to advance some other goal; they were seen as a commodity, a means to an end. [Blogger’s Note March 8, 2016: or so I have heard. I no longer believe that this happened except on the rarest of occasions. When I consider what pagan rituals consist of — the really lame antics of the Freemasons is a modern example — I’m astounded at the lack of imagination. It’s the fertile and creative Christian mind that seems to be able to devise the worst of horrors, as Chesterton has said. And moreover, I understand now about the loving tenderness of God – such stories of children being hurt or killed must be substantiated to the highest standards of proof for me to believe them.]
And as Chesterton says, when something is good, it can continue to be good, but when something begins to be bad, then it generally gets worse. What was fun in 1998 seems boring in 2001, and so the ante is upped. What was fun in 2004 seems lame in 2014, and so the ante is upped again. Year by year, the costumes become more immodest and the decorations become more grotesque.
Men may keep a sort of level of good, but no man has ever been able to keep on one level of evil. The road goes down and down . . .
– G.K. Chesterton, The Innocence of Father Brown, “The Flying Stars”
What I am saying is that when we promote the ‘tradition’ of Hallowe’en by participating in it, we are increasing the likelihood of others participating in the future. And the future of this celebration is looking pretty grim.
And the other thing that I ask in passing is to what extent can we really ‘pick-and-choose’? Are we going to be like practitioners of yoga, who say that they can take the exercise and leave behind the postures which are linked to different Hindu deities? Or do you get more than you bargained for? Are there spiritual realities associated with different practices independent of our intentions? DiscerningOne remembers the days when she used to participate in Hallowe’en; she regrets dressing her son up as a devil and wonders now whether there were any harmful spiritual consequences for him. It seemed harmless enough at the time.
And along that vein, I have heard of some immigrants arriving from South America and seeing the decorations of hideous faces and so on. They were so astonished, and remarked that ‘back home’ these images are used in devil worship.
It would be better to part ways with these traditions, as many people have done. Hold a non-Hallowe’en event if you must, but don’t be like those churches which pay homage to Hallowe’en by having their event look like a PG version of the exact same thing, or by holding their party on a day other than Oct 31.
Or, even better, go to church to pray for the souls of family members and friends who have passed away.
Or use it as a day to get in touch with an elderly friend or relative – you know you’ve been meaning to.
Or organize your crayons if you can’t think of anything better.
Get started on the decluttering you were planning to do.
Get rid of all those things taking up space in the back of your closet.
You can start with the Hallowe’en decorations.