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Three Reasons Why You Need to Celebrate Halloween

Do you believe in Halloween?

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Growing up, my family never bothered about Halloween. But we saw it on the movies, and slowly it bled into our own culture – to the point that my boys will be trick or treating with the neighbourhood kids on Monday.

There’s not a lot of enthusiasm for it amongst South African adults, though. Some bemoan it as another vulgar Americanism, others as some kind of satanic infiltration.

I can certainly understand the complaint about Halloween being yet another example of trashy American culture. A lot of how we view Halloween comes from horror films or TV shows. It just seems like a macabre, sugary waste of time. In that sense, it is a bit similar to modern Christmas. You buy stuff and get tired. But like Christmas, there’s a kernel of great, even holy, meaning in this strange festival that is still worth celebrating.

As for the spiritual critique of Halloween – as some kind of witchy, pagan ritual – that is simply ahistorical, and probably lacking in any awareness of the ways in which Christianity fulfilled some of the good aspects of paganism – its sense of the divine being near to us and present on earth.

I think that if we knew the roots of Halloween, its traditional Christian roots, and if we made something of an effort to enjoy the day in that light, it can be a meaningful annual event – beyond the simple, and utterly worthwhile, fun of your kids stalking the neighbourhood in search of sweets.

So here are my three reasons why Halloween is in fact a day worth celebrating:

1. Halloween is an ancient Christian festival. The 1st of November is All Saints’ Day, and so Halloween is actually All Hallows Eve – the vigil, or watch, before the day on which we remember all the holy people of the past. The 2nd of November is traditionally All Souls’ Day, in which we pray and remember all the dead – this would involve visiting graves or memorials and, as per the Catholic tradition, praying for the dead.

Christians have always believed, like the Ancient Greeks, in the immortality of the soul. This means the dead are still, in some sense, with us. As the opening quote of the latest James Bond film puts it, ‘The dead are alive.’ By the way, the opening scene is set on the 1st November, at the Mexican version of Halloween – the Day of the Dead. Yes, Halloween can be perverted into some kind of horror but the dangers of that are no less than the consumerism that has come to dominate Christmas. You just have to keep fighting for the original meaning of both festivals.

2. Halloween reminds us of death and the darker side of life. In the old days, kids saw birth and death happen in their home. They understood their lives followed a pattern, an ancient journey and ritual. Nowadays, we have age old homes and sanitary hospitals. We also have mid-life crises. If you look at the old churches of Europe, some are decorated with gargoyles or even skulls and bones. It’s important to own the fact of one’s mortality – to know that we are dust, sojourners upon this strange earth. Only then can we say with the Apostle, ‘Death, where is your sting?’

3. Halloween helps your kids to own the space of their neighbourhood, to interact with their peers and their elders in your community, and also to be creative in getting into costume. They don’t need to be demons or ghosts. They can be St George slaying the dragon – or any hero from the past. You can help them light a bonfire, toast a marshmallow – just being outside with them is always a victory.

So come Monday, enjoy the night out with your kids and some friends. Hallow the evening and maybe have a beer or two to boot. In the drear that makes up so much of modern, TV-addled life, we need days like this. We need physical reminders that time passes, and that we are all together on this great human adventure called life.