Kathy Schiffer is a Catholic blogger. In addition to her blog Seasons of Grace, her articles have appeared in the National Catholic Register, Aleteia, Zenit, the Michigan Catholic, Legatus Magazine, and other Catholic publications. She’s worked for Catholic and other Christian ministries since 1988, as radio producer, director of special events and media relations coordinator. Kathy and her husband, Deacon Jerry Schiffer, have three adult children.
Halloween is big business in our town. Hardware stores stock their front aisles with blinking, flashing, screeching yard decorations. The neighborhood fills with faux cemeteries on sprawling suburban lawns, scarecrows in denim and flannel, witches smashing into trees, pumpkins on porches, and corn stalks standing beside mailboxes.
And the costumes! Children dressed like ghosts and goblins, perky princesses and creepy crawlers, Pokemon Pikachu and Captain America, come boldly to your doorstep, demanding candy... or else!
But should Christians take part in this frivolity?
Halloween was a lot of fun when I was a kid, going door-to-door “begging” for treats. But by the time my own children were old enough to participate, the age-old custom of trick-or-treat was fraught with controversy, largely due to the wildly inaccurate reporting of one man: Jack Chick. (Chick, known for his religious comics called "Chick Tracts," died at his home in Alhambra, California on October 23, at the age of 92.)
Scott Richert, in his About.com column, rounds up some of the anti-Catholic and untrue beliefs promulgated by Jack Chick: That the Catholic Church invented Islam, communism and freemasonry; that the holocaust was a Vatican plot, and Hitler was the pawn of Pope Pius XII; that the Eucharist is really a “death cookie”; that the Pope is the antichrist; that Catholics worship the reincarnated Nimrod, founder of Babylon, and his wife (and mother) Semiramis. But beyond that, Chick attacked Halloween — alleging that the celebration had its roots in Druid spirituality, and that the Druids offered children as human sacrifices on Halloween night. In his tract titled The Trick, Chick wrote:
When [a Druid] went to a home and demanded a child or virgin for sacrifice, the victim was the Druid's treat. In exchange, they would leave a jack-o-lantern with a lighted candle made of human fat to prevent those inside from being killed by demons that night. When some unfortunate couldn't meet the demands of the Druids, then it was time for the trick. A symbolic hex was drawn on the front door. That night Satan or his demons would kill someone in that home.
In other Chick tracts, the myth of Druidic celebration of Halloween is repeated; and the jack-o'-lantern, which was any type of gourd suitable for transporting a burning lump of charcoal to a new campsite, is specifically identified as a carved pumpkin. Never mind that the Druids had been converted to Christianity nearly 400 years before Pope Gregory III instituted All Saints Day in the early eighth century. All Saints Day was celebrated on November 1, and the evening before—October 31—beame known as “All Hallows Eve” or Halloween.
In the 1990s, Chick's condemnation of the holiday was reinforced by a British tabloid which published an inflammatory and untrue article, claiming that Pope Benedict XVI had forbidden Catholics to celebrate Halloween.
So what's a parent to do? I found myself caught between two factions: On the one hand, there were the parents who enthusiastically celebrated the holiday with parties and trick-or-treating and scary costumes; and on the other hand, there were those (generally evangelical) parents who emphatically ignored Halloween, instead sending their children to a “Harvest Party” or a Christian concert. In the ensuing years, there's been yet a third group: those Catholics who take full advantage of the holiday by teaching their children about the saints, celebrating their Catholic heritage on All Saints Day (November 1) by dressing in costumes inspired by holy men and women of old.
Our family diligently chose the middle ground. The children could go door-to-door, collecting candy treats and tricking the neighbors; but they could not choose evil characters for their holiday role-playing. They were not dressed as saints, but there was a princess, a ladybug, a bear, a shark.... And we were careful not to criticize families who made another choice, whether the children were St. Patrick and St. Cecilia, or the Grim Reaper. And a good time was had by all.