Halloween is over and done, and for many of us, thank God!, what started out as a Vigil for the Roman Catholic Feast of All Saints (All Hallows) has become a commercial monster. Even the Catholic custom of dressing up like different saints has morphed into a celebration of horror and killing and evil. Now, I know that it is fun to get dressed up. But to take our Feast and use it as an opportunity to party and to celebrate what we see as evil: devils,witches and the dead (undead?), is another matter.
This sort of takeover does not limit itself to Halloween. Take that other vigil celebration from Catholic Spirituality: Mardi Gras. It was a way to celebrate and have meat (Carnival means goodbye to meat and Mardi Gras is from the French for Fat Tuesday) before Ash Wednesday and the meatless days of penance. In New Orleans, the Archbishop often has to issue Pastoral Letters to try to control the excesses of Mardi Gras, which is no longer confined to one day but stretches out for months before Ash Wednesday!
How did Halloween and Mardi Gras so far surpass the holy events that were meant to follow them?
There is so much life in the life of faith that the secular void, which is empty of this life, takes away to suit its own purposes. It takes religious concepts like Feasts and strains out all the ‘fantasy’ to leave only what it can accept, which is, for us, sometimes more fantastical! Christmas is another example of this: In order to help our economy, the ‘holidays’ are times to show love by buying, buying and more buying! Stripped of Christ, we have a snow holiday with the remnants of Christian love (as long as that love does not impinge on my right to have a good time!).
Even beyond Feasts, instead of fasting we talk of dieting. Instead of Holy Days we speak of holidays. Prayer, that most intimate form of communication between God and Human Beings, becomes navel-gazing types of meditation.
The modern world is intent in banishing the religious instinct and leaving only the remains of celebration.
Unfortunately, even Catholics surrender to this. Take the range of Holy Days of Obligation in our Liturgical Calendar. First off, how can a Holy Day in which we celebrate a mystery of salvation be made a legal thing that says if you don’t go to Church, you go to Hell! How can one throw a party and then force people to come?
So now the Churches are virtually empty on these Feasts and Bishops admit defeat and place them on Sundays. (This does not happen in New York State, where we have the strange dichotomy of strong Feasts that are always obligatory and weak ones that evaporate when they come near Sundays!).
We can see this principle of the removal of the religious center of the things we celebrate by many of the things we do at Christmas. The very word is both a shadow of the original ‘Christ-Mass’ that firmly grounds the feast in the Liturgy. Some spend an exorbitant amount of money and time to put up lights, decorations, and get gifts at Christmas. Do those who do so, who admire the shining beauty in the night, even have an inkling of the original purpose of this custom? They are meant to celebrate Christ as the Light of the World who shines in the darkness of our age!
One can go through all the customs of Christmas (the cards, the gifts, the carols, etc.) and come up with silence when asked for their origin and their meaning.
This principle of ‘extraction’, by which the visible celebration (Christmas) or the preparation for the celebration (Halloween and Mardi Gras) is extracted from its religious meaning, is a nefarious process by the secular state of removing the very meaning of the ‘Holy Day’ by making it a holiday, as if it were just another time for vacation.
There have been attempts made recently to take Christmas Carols, that often have real theological content, (e.g. ‘Earth and Heaven reconciled’ from Joy to the World) and put non-religious lyrics to the familiar tunes so that we can return Christmas to the pagan Solstice celebration! Christmas (apologies to Irving Berlin!) is not about snow, it is about Christ.
This is a sneaky attempt by our society to banish the religious from public discourse. In the supposed interest of ‘inclusivism’, we remove God from the equation. This has disastrous consequences for our worldview and for the future of our society.
As Catholic Christians, we must resist this theft of meaning that is happening all around us.
Keep Christ in Christmas. Keep Christ in Halloween. Keep Christ in Mardi Gras. Keep Christ in everything.