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Belief Beat

Fun Friday: British Catholics Campaign to ‘Reclaim’ Halloween

Halloween has my vote for most fun holiday, so this jumped out at me this week: Catholic News Agency reports that a British Catholic leader has launched a “window light campaign intended to ‘reclaim’ Halloween as Christian holiday.”

Damian Stayne, founder of the community Cor et Lumen Christi (Heart and Light of Christ), said the “Night of Light” initiative is the vigil of the Feast of All Saints, when Catholics celebrate “the glory of God in His saints, the victory of light over darkness in the lives of God’s holy ones in heaven.” Jesus is the “Light of the World” by whom the saints lived and became a beacon to their generation, he explained.


Sayne said that in many countries prayer gatherings and children’s celebrations are being organized and participants are encouraged to place a light in their window in order to “visibly witness to neighbors and friends.”

According to Catholic News Service parents in England and Wales are advised to dress their children up as popular saints (St. Francis of Assisi, St. Mary Magdalene, etc.) rather than witches and devils, and to carve pumpkins with smiling faces and/or crosses, rather than menacing jack-o’-lanterns.

I must admit, I don’t quite get it… Perhaps I’m culturally confused? Is Halloween less commercialized and more devious in Europe than in America? Is this campaign a reflection of the recent papal visit? Thoughts?


(For what it’s worth, I understand that traditional Christians may frown on Halloween: My own family’s Orthodox church used to hold a fun party with a costume contest and haunted house for the kids every year, until a new priest decided it wasn’t appropriate, along with the Mardi Gras dinner dance. Hmph. I just don’t understand this campaign. Also, my son is dressing up as a monkey this year, which — like many popular children’s costumes — is neither saintly nor satanic, unless I skipped a crucial Curious George story.)

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posted October 16, 2010 at 4:01 am

You can only “reclaim” something if it was once yours to begin with. Halloween and its progenitor, Samhain, never belonged to Christianity in any sense of the word. The Catholic church attempted to subsume it to a very minor and contrived religious holiday called All Souls Day. Evangelicals have been down on Halloween forever. The latest Catholic move is part of the institution’s return to a middle ages viewpoint which says that anything not directly reflective of church traditions is evil.

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posted October 16, 2010 at 5:48 am

Kenneth, all Saint’s Day (Nov 1- All Hollow’s) and All Soul’s Day (& Day of the Dead- Nov 2) are anything but minor in many parts of the world.
I doubt if this celebration in the Latino world has all its roots in Celtic pagan antiquity. Some maybe, but not all.
And who cares anyway but you?

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posted October 16, 2010 at 8:48 am

Gormod ! Basta! Perhaps the both of you should do some reading before getting so hot under the collar. Samhain (aka Halloween) was a three day (Oct 31 – Nov 2)festival acknowledging the end of the harvest season and the start of the winter season. For the ancient Celts (and modern day Wiccans)this is the time when both the physical and spiritual worlds connect.
When Christianity took root in the Celtic lands it became necessary to show the pagans that this new religion had similarities. The Feast of All Saints and All Halows is (in Roman Catholicism) is a multi-day feast. The feast honours the cannoinsed sainys (November 1st) and the non-cannonised saints (the faithful who lived saint-like lives) of the church. They are honoured, remembered and prayed for. Theologically, the days allow recognition and remeberancefor all in the church body.
So whatever your tradition is, enjoy the days (more so if you are alive to do so)remember and pray for those whom are closest to you.
Pob hwyl ac iechy da!

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posted October 16, 2010 at 10:09 am

This reminds me of a Religion and New Ethics Weekly story last Christmas about a man who dress up as the Catholic Saint Nicholas to deliver Christmas presents. It was his attempt to reclaim Christmas as a Christian holiday.
To each his own, but they’ll leave other people scratching their heads.

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posted October 16, 2010 at 11:19 am

GOOD to see your post, and explaining things so well. Thanks.

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judith warren

posted October 16, 2010 at 12:11 pm

The Fun and Guilt Police are at it again. Why jinx a holiday that little kids all over the world enjoy (my grandchild is Muslim, all else Xn), and they enjoy it TOGETHER. Christian children are taught at Church the real meaning and pray with thanksgiving for the saints. Also for them, the sobriety following on All Sts. Day brings realism to their beliefs, just like Mardi Gras before Ash Wed. Come on, folks, don’t you believe that God smiles or laughs at SOMETHING???

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Robert C

posted October 16, 2010 at 1:57 pm

Well. Only partly correct Rhiannon. There are separate and distinct origins for All Saints, All Souls and Halloween. Not all, or even any significant holidays, were singularly adopted from the Wiccans or the Celts. Halloween having the best claim.
The origin of the festival of All Saints celebrated in the West can actually be traced first to the Romans. They celebrated a three day holiday called the Feast of the Lemures which was an observation of great antiquity (and probably borrowed from the Greeks). It was celebrated in Rome traditionally on May 13th. During that festival the malevolent and restless spirits of the dead were appeased (a predecessor of All Souls). Interestingly that holiday was indeed adopted by Pope Boniface IV upon his consecration of the Pantheon to the Virgin and all the martyrs in 609. The Pantheon was originally commissioned by Marcus Agrippa as a temple to all the gods of Ancient Rome, and then rebuilt by Emperor Hadrian in about 126 AD. All the Gods were transmorphed into All the Saints and presto change-o this ancient custom was Christianized into the feast of All Saints’ Day, specifically in order to de-paganize the Roman Lemuria and also the festival of Pomona which occurred at approximately the same time.
Remember that after Constantine and during that time the Roman state and the church had become singularly unified and it was in everyone’s best political interests to ‘homogenize’ religious beliefs. Subsequently, in the eighth century, as the popular observance of the Lemuria had faded over time, the church shifted the feast of All Saints to November 1 after Pope Gregory III consecrated a chapel in the old Basilica of St. Peter to all the saints and fixed the anniversary of the consecration to coincide with the holiday. That it also happened to coalesce with the similar Celtic propitiation of the spirits at Samhain, was non political serendipity since by then the Roman control of Britain had long ceased to be significant, and Gregory could have cared less about any residual influence of Samhain. Not to say that he wouldn’t have wanted to make that adoption if the politics warranted, but more than likely the indigenous politics of the Celts, the Brits, the Picts et al versus the budding Anglo Saxon hegemony had more to do with the influence of the Christian church’s influence in suppressing the Irish Druids by the 7th century.
Bear in mind though that most holidays, celebrations and festivals were derivative, and Christianity was not alone in this great swap meet. The Romans adopted Etruscan and Greek celebrations. The festival, Thesmophoria, honoring Demeter, as an example was held during a month known as Pyanopsion in the lunisolar calendar of the Athenians. Since our calendar is solar, the month doesn’t exactly match, but in ancient Greece this was the time of the fall planting of crops like barley and winter wheat and fell approximately around the 31st. Samhain itself also marked the end of the harvest, and was probably derivative from other cultures since ancient influences were much more widespread than once believed. The Greeks in turn borrowed from the Minoans who were directly influenced by the Sumerians, the Mesopotamians and the Egyptians. As an example, accounting for calendar changes and lunar calendar cycles, October 31st coincides with the Feast of Sekhmet Bast Ra and November 1st with the Festival of Het-Hert Hathor. Then as now everyone borrowed a good idea and used what worked to their advantage. Cultures based festivals on many criteria; the phases of the Moon, where a waxing moon meant abundance and growth, while a waning moon was associated with decline, conservation, and the underworld; the phases of the annual agricultural cycles; the Equinoxes and solstices; the local mythos and its divine Patrons; the success of the reigning Monarch; and commemoration of specific historical events. Almost all the widespread, inherited festivals were astrologically based, and this was true around the globe. It all stems from the astrology.

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Joe Gonzalez

posted October 16, 2010 at 4:48 pm

I’m a person first, second i’m a Catholic. i was baptized 8 days after being born ( which, by the way, today’s my 61st birthday ! )
i’m a self-critical person ; i think any mature person should be so to a sane degree. The Church has always liked to be popular. That’s not the reason Jesus set it up. But, anyway, in the conquest of foreign lands, when the Church used to rule along with the monarchical conquerors ( that is, if the conqueror wasn’t itself ), it adopted many native rituals to make the faith more palatable. Now, it’s trying to 1) throw a smokescreen over the whole scandal issue, which is still hot enough to bend iron, and 2 ) it’s trying to cover up the coverup with things like deep preoccupation w/ the environment, etc. It’s one of the oldest tricks in the books, & everyone knows that. They themselves, however, are quite blind. The other day they came out with an universal ( catholic means universal ) proclaimment ( maybe it was about he environment, i don’t recall ) but it brought it out only in Italian and Latin ! That shows u how deft they are at managing their PR. Now, they wanna make Halloween sacred ? i was under the impression that Halloween was a popular take on All Souls Day, a Catholic feast at the outset of November, which to make it popular with native people’s, they let the indigenous celebrate with skulls and such paraphernalia. What gets to me is : they say they got God’s honest Truth pat ( and in a way, i agree with them ), but, aside from so many intricate and difficult encyclicals, theologically almost perfect, they’re so lousy running the every day affairs of their House ! Well…serves them well. What do a bunch of segregated chastity, poverty and obedience folks know about running a house ? COME BACK TO EARTH, VATICAN ! The Heavenly Jersusalem hasn’t yet descended !

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posted October 16, 2010 at 11:23 pm

Aw Joe, it is not all about you. I am also 61 and I have seen a lot and realize that Jesus also have some lousy PR.
Jesus was quite popular most of the time but not on Good Friday.
There is very little to nothing in the New Testament that suggests that Christianity should be responsible for providing order to society; in contrast to Islam via Quran which almost entirely tries this.
The Church is trying to find its Judaic roots, but getting little help from the Jewish community.
Maybe the pope should call the 2nd Council of Jeruselum and set Easter on the Western calander to always coincide just after Jewish Passover. But then again would you think they are trying to dodge some “cover up” issue or something?

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posted October 17, 2010 at 10:25 am

Goodguyex, I’m a calendar/time keeping geek and Passover being misaligned with Easter bugged me into finding out why a while back.
The problem with the Jewish passover versus Easter is that the current Jewish calendar is a purely theoretical calendar (purely calculated). The problem is that every 224 years, the Hebrew calendar falls a full day behind the modern solar year. So over the centuries it has come out of alignment with the Earth’s seasons in a big way. As a result it wrongly predicts the date of the Vernal Equinox.
The same thing happened to the Julian calendar which is why the Gregorian Calendar was created. So it correctly predicts the Vernal Equinox and thus the date of Easter. The Gregorian Calendar is a mix of theoretical and observational tweaking and is highly accurate for spans of ten millenniums.
So if any calendar needs fixing it is the Jewish calendar. But they would need to see a reason to do it and deal with the complications of skipping any dates that effect the observation of religious rituals that occurred on those dates.
Sorry for the digression.

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posted October 18, 2010 at 10:08 am

There are lots of ways to play this game!
Why not suggest dressing as St Lucy – with her eyes plucked out. How about St Sebastian, with his skin peeled off. All those Zombie fans would probably respond quite well to dressing as mortified saints; decapitated, gruesome and gory as they were. A casual trip through a detailed Lives of the Saints could provide a wealth of material for anyone skilled in latex, fake hair, and makeup.
Creativity and cleverness trump curmudgeons every time.

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posted October 18, 2010 at 3:59 pm

So glad the Catholics have decided to steal something else in the name that it is Evil! For crying out loud! Just dress your kids however you want! Don’t start blaming other beliefs for your inability to know your own holidays! Shouldn’t your kids be praying to Jesus, instead of dressing up and pretending now their saints? Oh, well commercialism……be careful not to mass produce those “Jesus” masks and robes! You’ll be the next devil….until they need to gas-up their Hum-V!

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posted October 22, 2010 at 4:37 pm

Why ruin Halloween? In suburban middle class America in the 70s, it had no deep religious significance whatsoever. It was pure FUN! Now, the pagans are doing Samhain rituals…which is understandable, Samhain is an actual pagan holiday. But why do the Christians have to get into the act?
Can’t we have just one holiday that’s not overlaid with duty and obligation and solemnity? Halloween and the Fourth of July used to be those. But now people want to drag religion into Halloween, and hardcore, over-the-top patriotism into the Fourth of July. Oh, to be a child in the 70s again….when those two holidays just meant you got to go outside and play after dark!

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