Saturday, October 31, 2009

Is Halloween Evil?

Sociologists probably have all kind of insights into the popularity of Halloween customs, especially the costumes. (Nobody needs a degree in social sciences to explain the popularity of free candy.) I'm sure the ghoul factor gets some attention in the ivory halls, too. Every year the costumes and movies get more gruesome, and the anti-Halloween pontifications in newspapers and blogs more pronounced. What is going on?
Beats me.
The Mexican tradition for All Souls Day, the Dia de los Muertos, features skeletons galore, usually in rather comic representations, and skull candies. My understanding is that this is a way of mocking death, because Jesus put death to death by entering into it himself. That's pretty close to the origins of our Catholic celebrations at this time of year, because the original feast of All Saints was celebrated in close connection with Easter and then moved to coincide with the Celtic observances that gave a nod to our ongoing communion with the departed. But it would be quite a stretch to say that is what is happening at Halloween in el Norte. I almost wonder if it is the exact opposite; that what we see advertised for the Haunted Houses and in the costume shops (I'm not going anywhere near the movies) reflects the loss of a theological sense of death at all, a kind of shrugging "whatever" before the most ghastly possibilities because, ultimately, none of it matters anyway.
Still, to just pitch Halloween altogether seems like a sell-out. It's almost like saying that there is nothing redeemable at the root of the festivities; that it really is all pagan (in the worst sense of the word). That wasn't the attitude of the Church in the 5th century, when anything that could be re-interpreted in the light of the Gospel was "baptized" and taken in.
Can this celebration be "saved" again?


Janelle said...

I like how you posted this and the cookie recipe together. Dia de los Muertos always reminds me of the funerary banquets of antiquity... and, of course, the shared meal of Christians in remembrance of Jesus.

harv681 said...

As always, a few crazy extremists blow it for the rest of us! In our neighborhood, Halloween is a safe, family filled community gathering complete with costumes, a pot-luck buffet, and supervised candy gathering. And as you know, "Halloween Alternatives" abound with church run fall festivals and cars decorated for "Trunk or Treat".

Anonymous said...

On the bright side it is your birthday, but the year will not be mentioned by me.

Katie P. said...

Sociology doesn't really touch why Halloween is important to people, but we do talk a lot about how the costumes generally 1) reinforce masculine hegemony (aka...hypersexualize women--you know..."slutty" [fill in the blank]) and 2)socialize young girls into that. Also, the sociology of horror is getting a lot of play these days (answering what it is about being scared out of your pants that compels people).

It's a gendered holiday is what we've concluded. But you're right about the free candy. Rational-choice theory all the way on that one.

Your friendly neighborhood sociologist.