As a new Catholic, I endeavored that my family be loyal and obedient to our Lord and his Church, and so after my conversion I took an inventory of anything which might threaten the integrity of our faith.
The investigation began with that national bastion of fun, sweets, and mischief: Halloween.
Halloween bears a Pagan past which originated with the Celts of northern Europe. Each year, before Christian missionaries brought Christ to the land, the Celts observed a harvest festival which propitiated Samhain (Sow’ en), their lord of death. As the light and warmth of the year slowly faded beneath the encroachment of winter, the Celts lit bonfires to symbolize their hope in the renewal of Spring, but this was also the time when the spirits of the dead roamed.
During Samhain, mischief reigned at the hands of unkind spirits (and some opportunistic, unscrupulous among the living). The only way to ward off these marauding souls was by camouflage (dressing as a spirit) or offering meals and treats to appease the spirits. When the potato famine struck Ireland in the 1840s and a mass migration of the Celtic people landed upon American shores, they brought with them a proto-Halloween. American secularization and commercialization made short work of this dark and Pagan celebration of the lord of death and transformed it into the staple holiday of sweets and debauchery today.
The back story of Halloween curdled my stomach. Never mind the fact that the Church honors All Saints Day the following morning, like the bright, warm rays of sunshine banishing the darkness of a night haunted by a bad dream. Never mind that “Halloween” derives its name from the evening before this great celebration of our departed heroes of the faith, All Hallows Eve. The proximity of this hallowed observance in our holy Church to this Pagan sacrilege was enough for me to eject our family’s participation henceforth.
No more candy, costumes, or so-called church-sponsored “harvest festivals” (which is, ironically, exactly what Samhain is: a Pagan harvest festival! How sly the devil is…)
But my inquisition against the subversive Pagan infection, wreathed in the camouflage of secular American culture, did not terminate there. With a Puritan’s fire, I marched on. I would extract every particle of Pagan filth which conflicted with our love and fidelity to Christ and Church, no matter the cost.
My next target: Christmas.
Santa Claus: a myth superimposed upon an authentic 4th century Catholic bishop and saint known for his care for the poor (especially children) and a defender of the Faith against heresy. A lover of God and shepherd of men turned into an overweight man gorging himself on treats while riding a sleigh pulled by magic reindeer and sneaking into homes. His myth has no place in our home.
The Christmas tree: The lineage of the Christmas tree, lit as a beacon of warmth and familial unity, hails from the northern European tradition of igniting trees and logs in celebration of yet another Pagan festival called Yule, which marked the arrival of the winter solstice. As inviting as the Christmas tree is, and despite my wife’s great love for decorating and basking in its festive warmth, I cannot with good conscience abide its tainted presence in our home.
In a final examination, most scholars agree that Jesus was likely born in the spring, and so celebrating his birth on the opposite side of the year in proximity and association with so many Pagan derivatives (the winter solstice, Yule, honoring Sol Invictus, etc.) seems spiritually dishonest. Perhaps we should cancel Christmas pending a more accurate representation of his birthday?
Thanksgiving Day: 1 Thessalonians 5: 18 states that we must give thanks at all times, so it seems appropriate that we fix a day to thank God for our blessings, and share with others. Upon further investigation, a shadow looms upon the day. With a nation suffering from overindulgence and self-absorption, this day of thanks to God and sharing has devolved into a day of gorging upon food and products we do not need. Henceforth, our family will observe Thanksgiving every day in simple, reverent ways, not an orgy of face-stuffing and stampeding over others for store sales.
Easter bunnies and egg hunts: Easter celebrates the Passion and sacrifice of Jesus upon the cross, a transfiguration of the Jewish Paschal feast, so how is it that bunny rabbits and eggs–Pagan symbols of fertility and perhaps the Germanic goddess, Eostre–crashed the observation of the most important moment in history? Despite the Church, in her wisdom and assimilating nature, utilizing these symbols as evangelistic tools for the risen and triumphant Christ, my family simply cannot risk participating in these festivities.
Birthdays: As my research toward a purer Christian life reached a crescendo, I uncovered the most shocking of all Pagan defilement: birthdays. All the parties, family gatherings, photos and memories…surely this recognition of life and renewal remains unadulterated. Alas, my investigation revealed that Jewish culture–the culture of our Lord–did not celebrate birthdays, as they were often perceived as reminders of death, and instead performed acts of penance and sacrifice. Celebrating birthdays and even the origin of the birthday cake itself bears Pagan lineage. Various sources suggest that birthday candles echo from the Greeks honoring the moon goddess Artemis. We love our daughters, but such a seemingly innocent event, like a small cut, could invite a more serious spiritual infection. If Jesus didn’t mark his birthday with candles and cake, neither shall we.
While this purge of Pagan-tainted events has presented challenges and disappointments to my family, we are more faithful in the long run. In 1 Peter 1: 17, the Saint declares:
In this you rejoice, although now for a little while you may have to suffer through various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith…even though tested by fire, may prove to be for praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
Yes, we could do this: we could avoid our culture and bubble-wrap our children. Or, we could help them understand that as disciples of Christ we are called to be the “light and salt” which leavens our world with Jesus who lives within them. Did Jesus, who ate and drank with sinners, tell his disciples to hide from the world or to transform it?
The genius of the Church is that she “examines everything carefully and takes what is good(1Thessalonians 5: 21)” from the culture she enters and leavens it with Christ. Thus we can perhaps evangelize during Halloween by dressing as a favorite saint and sharing their story with friends, or visit homes and offer prayers in exchange for candy.
This Halloween do not hide in fear like the disciples in the upper room; do not sheath the Light with a lampshade of uber-piety. Even in our fallen state God did not withhold himself, but instead saw the good and wore our humanity in the person of Jesus, thus redeeming us to himself. Take then, and celebrate what is good and allow God to shine into and transform the rest.
This post was written by my husband, but for the record, we do celebrate Halloween. We do Santa and Christmas trees. We enjoy Thanksgiving dinner. We welcome Easter bunnies and egg hunts. And birthdays? Well, let’s just say I celebrate mine for a week. This post was simply to educate and inform of the Pagan roots of many of our celebrations. Don’t “throw the baby out with the bath water”. You may choose not to participate, but don’t choose the road of legal.ism when you yourself may also be participating in celebrations with Pagan roots. There are many dark areas in this world, our job as Christians isn’t to avoid the dark, but to stamp out the dark with Light.