By Fr. Joshan Rodrigues –
Halloween is around the corner, and has given life to a debate about whether it is appropriate for Christians to celebrate this day. The question may be a new one in urban India, but has been resurfacing every year in the west where Halloween has been celebrated for decades. To put the issue into perspective, Halloween has just begun emerging as a theme or festivity in urban Indian cities in the last few years. It is not celebrated as in the West with children going door-to-door trick-o-treating, but is largely confined to Halloween-themed parties for teens and young adults. Why this has emerged in the last few years is open to speculation. Could it be indirect marketing by companies who stand to profit from the sale of Halloween merchandise? We cannot say.
Coming back to our original question, I have been asked by a few if Halloween goes against Christian beliefs, since there are a number of such articles doing the rounds. One even says (erroneously though, fake as it can get) that Pope Benedict XVI himself explicitly condemned the celebration of Halloween. Instead of just focusing on Halloween, we need to look at this question in its broader aspects. In India, we are often confronted with many such similar doubts: Is it ok to practice yoga? Is it ok to participate in Hindu festivities like Holi, Diwali and Makar Sankranti (Kite-Flying)? Is it ok to visit a temple while on a tour or with Hindu friends? Is it ok to accept prasad when it is offered to me? Is getting a tattoo anti-catholic? Phew…the list goes on. Even the Harry Potter books were condemned by some as teaching children about witchcraft and the dark arts.
So does the Church say anything about each of these issues? It doesn’t in particular. Because getting into the intricacies of every issue and practice that happens in the world is entering into petty legalism and a narrow outlook towards the catholic faith. So if you are looking online to find if the Church has specifically permitted or forbidden participating in the examples I’ve mentioned above, you are not likely to find anything. What you will find are ‘Christians’ or even priests on occasion, giving you their own informed opinion on these topics. But none of this constitutes official Church teaching. This is recommended, though at the end, on many questions like the one I’ve mentioned above, each Christian is called to make his/her own choice in good conscience and after having done their own research.
So what is my ‘opinion’ on this issue? Well, the Church puts forth principles (moral, religious, ethical, etc) and then asks us to make the right choice in keeping with these principles. For example:
- Separate the practice from the belief/spirituality/philosophy behind it. The Second Vatican Council said that there are elements of truth and beauty in non-Christian practices as well. Everything that is not explicitly Christian is not to be outrightly condemned. Can I practice yoga as a physical exercise? Yes. Can I follow and believe in Yogic spirituality? No.
- Evaluate your own faith practices at the same time. If you have a sturdy and strong faith life, and are strong in what you believe, your faith will not be swayed. Halloween is actually of Celtic origin which was then brought to America by the immigrants. Over time, the celebration has evolved into the form we see it today. Halloween is actually an abbreviated form for ‘All Hallows’ Eve’ which means the night before All Saints’ Day. Hallow means holy or saint. Christians usually go for Mass on All Saints Day and All Souls Day, on the day following, to honour the saints and pray for the dead. Halloween is an amalgamation of these two days. So, there’s no harm in going for a Halloween-themed party. But do you also intend to go for Mass the following days in keeping with your Christian beliefs? If no, then you must take a fresh look at your faith life. Though these two days are not holy days of obligation in India (meaning you have to go for Mass), it seems strange that a good Christian would celebrate Halloween but not All Saints and Souls Day.
- Having said this, in keeping with the teachings of St Paul, if your decision to take part in a non-Christian practice may cause discomfort to someone close to you, then it is better to avoid it. Even if I am strong in my faith, I must pay attention to the faith of my brother or sister, whose faith may be weak.
1 Cor 8: 9-13 – “Be careful, however, that your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak. For if someone with a weak conscience sees you who are well informed eating in an idol’s temple, will he not be encouraged to eat food sacrificed to idols? So this weak brother, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge. By sinning against your brothers in this way and wounding their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother to stumble, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause him to stumble.”
4. Celebrate Halloween by dressing up as positive characters instead of vampires, werewolves, witches and ghosts for a change. Why not go dressed up as your favourite saint? Some of your friends may laugh at you at first, but they will be deeply impacted by your example and you will stand out in the crowd. Not to mention that you will have brought a smile to the face of your favourite saint in heaven.
So, to sum up, each one of us must take the right decision for ourselves, keeping in mind the principles stated above. It may be different for each one of us. The Church is not the military; it is diversity in love for Christ. Keep in mind that on many important issues, the Church has a very clear teaching (e.g. abortion, contraception, the Sacraments etc). But in other cases like the ones we are talking about, we need to make our own individual choices based on a well-developed and good Christian conscience and taking into account those who look upto us as models for inspiration.