One sometimes hears objections to Halloween from people who are afraid it’s an anti-Christian holiday, demonic, Satanic, hedonistic, or pre-Christian. It might be any of the above (it’s certainly pre-Christian, in its guise as Samhain). But I wonder about the implied notion that a non-Christian holiday might be somehow morally deficient, that it would be virtuous to abstain from costumes, trick-or-treating, or jack o’lanterns.
After all, what passes for a Christian holiday? The Día de los Muertos is an ingenious cultural hybrid (All Saints’ Day plus the lingering memory of the Aztec gods). So is Christmas/Yule. Mardi Gras falls somewhere between Lupercalia and the Greater Dionysia. Isn’t Easter named after Ishtar? If we go on at this rate discovering predecessors, we won’t have any Christian festivals left.
And let’s look at the content of the holiday. On Christmas, there is feasting, singing, and giving of gifts. Some of us make charitable donations (especially Americans, when the first of January looms and the IRS comes to mind). But the greater part of the gifts, and certainly the massive advertising, decorating, carol-singing, red-nosed public side of the thing, has to do with circulating good stuff among friends and family– which is not far from benefiting oneself. If “it is more blessed to give than to receive,” most Christmas gifts qualify only under a technicality.
On Halloween, we throw our doors open to all strangers, the stranger the strangers the better: space aliens, pirates, warrior princesses, dinosaurs, zombies, Elvises, Time Lords, Scotsmen, Yellow Submarines. And into their outstretched baskets we pour candy, not caring when they eat it or whether they got more than they deserved. Sure, there’s the threat of a trick in the absence of a treat, and it may be that atavistically we are bribing the ghosts and spirits to stay away from our homesteads for another year. But it’s still an act of radical hospitality that sweeps the candy away from, not around in, the domestic circle. So I say: Cast thy Twix upon the waters! Go thou and do likewise!