Saturday, October 31, 2009

The Spanish Catholic Church vs. "Pagan" Halloween

According to the London Times, the Spanish Catholic Church with the backing of the Vatican has come out completely against the celebration of Halloween. The article quotes an earlier, more lenient position taken by the Vatican as follows:

The Vatican appeared previously to take a more lenient position. Father Gabriele Amorth, the Vatican’s chief exorcist, once said: “If English and American children like to dress up as witches and devils on one night of the year, that’s not a problem. If it is just a game, there is no harm.”


But the Spanish hierarchy begs to differ.

Wearing skeleton suits, dressing up as vampires, witches or goblins or slapping on fake blood is not far removed from communing with the Devil, according to the country’s bishops.

However, the bishops, with Vatican backing, have reserved their venom for the millions of parents who allowed their children to celebrate this “pagan” festival.

Father Joan María Canals, the director of the Spanish Bishops Conference Committee on Liturgy, condemned parents for permitting their children to go to “un-Christian” parties when they should be focusing on All Saints Day today and All Souls Day on Monday.


All Hallows Eve is the Christian appropriation of an earlier "pagan"--specifically Celtic--holiday called Samhain. As I discussed in my previous post, if one wants to do away with holidays that have "pagan" elements, one would also have to do away with Christmas and Easter. And I do not think the church is going to claim those as anti-Christian and communing with the Devil. Frankly, dressing up in cute, clever, and sometimes gory costumes going door-to-door asking for candy is a pale reflection of the "pagan" roots of the holiday. Easter is probably closer to its pagan background! Very helpfully, the article gives a history of the holiday from Celtic origins, to Roman appropriation, to Christianization, and finally Americanization (which is basically synonymous with commercialization):

• The Celts wore costumes made from animal heads and built large fires to celebrate their new year, which fell on November 1. New Year’s Eve on October 31 was known as Samhain (pronounced “sow-in”) and marked the end of the “season of the Sun” (summer) and the beginning of “the season of darkness and cold”( winter). Although this 2,000-year-old version of Hallowe’en did not include trick or treating, it was far from dull.

• The Celts would burn crops and animals as offerings to their gods. Before the celebration, the ancient people would extinguish all fires other than the central bonfire, and scare each other with fortune-telling and prophesying

• The Romans later adapted this festival of the dead to honour the goddess of fruits and trees, Pomona. This is the most likely reason why, on Hallowe’en, we still bob for apples

• In the year AD835 the Roman Catholic Church made November 1 a holiday to honour all the saints. Although it was a joyous holiday, it was also the eve of All Souls Day, or All Hallows, so in medieval times it became customary to pray for the dead on this date

• Hallowe’en’s modern popularity can be attributed to the Americans. Because the celebration was largely free of any religious connections, it was quickly embraced by a broad swath of immigrants in the second half of the 19th century. Today Americans spend an estimated $6.9 billion (£4.2 billion) on Hallowe’en each year


Nowhere in the early stages was there anything about candy, there was no trick-or-treating, and, although there were costumes, I doubt many of us are wearing real animal heads. There are scary stories, however. The bonfire sounds fun.

1 comment:

sisyphus said...

The most inventive fancy-dress costumes I have ever seen were being worn at Spanish fiestas and pre-Lenten carnivals, and many of those were home-made. At one fiesta in a region of Castile I shall not name, I watched a most realistic Christ dancing round a table with as many of the Twelve Disciples as were still able to stand at that point in the night. The costumes even boasted haloes, albeit crooked ones. No member of the local clergy was in attendance, but perhaps some plausible spiritual connection could have been made with the wedding-feast at Cana?