Halloween: vain and vacuous

Posted: 1 November 2015 in Cultural, Understanding Others
Tags: , ,


At the front door, we cried out “trick-or-treat”, then uttered ghoul like shrieks and wails.  Our hosts for this party we were attending opened the door, and then were confused.  They saw I and my wife doing this “ironically”.  But also were confronted by a gaggle of kids doing this for real, who had opportunistically come up behind us.

“Ironic” yes.  But “for real”?  Well perhaps not.  No one does Halloween for real.  Do they.  It’s not real, after all?  We all shiver and giggle in a yearly fright-fest.  We tell ourselves “ha ha he he, we know better”, “ghosts don’t exist and we don’t mind them”.  In the end we’ll all be dead, but we’ll come back as zombies.  (Duh – I work in Haiti from time to time.  There – they take zombies seriously!  I came across a proposal to arm an institution’s guards, against … zombies.)  For us, it is an exercise in a self knowledge that does not exist.  A dalliance with dead and the beyond that does not acknowledge death and dying in any real way.  Neither the brutal ends in Syria, nor the slow erosions of Alzheimer’s here in UK.  Our self knowledge is delusional. Halloween reveals our puerile vanity.

I was surprised to read this in The Guardian Editorial 31st October.  A critique of Halloween’s emptiness, it’s tackiness, it’s inner vacuity.

With the end of all that [Christian] certainty, and with the loss of All Hallows’ Eve as a remotely celebrated festival, we have somehow lost something profound too.  The slow accretion of meaning and tradition brings something to the observation of Christian solemnities that nothing quite consciously arranged can match, and which commercial Halloween does not even try to.  Behind the plastic skulls of today’s Halloween lurks something much more frightening.  The lines of comic shambling zombies cannot entirely conceal Auden’s view that we are “lost in a haunted wood, children afraid of the night who have never been happy or good”.  It ends “If the only rituals we have are centred around plastic and imported pumpkins, then we must learn to full them with meanings of our won.”

Years ago, I turned up at a Halloween party in my full stole, cassock and robes, with something like a bishop’s hat and crozier.  To general looks of puzzlement I replied “I’m here to represent the good guys to cast out the bad”.  Perhaps Christians have been too much po-faced and nay-sayers. Perhaps we should turn this farrago of nonsense into an opportunity.  Ignore the undercurrent of real nastiness.  Make Cross or fish silhouettes into our pumpkins instead of grinning wickedness.  And give out sweets to the kids and sensible tracts for the accompanying adults.

Let’s do it then.  Let’s confront Halloween with meanings of our own.  It is believers who are in a better position to deal with dying, death, and what happens after than any plastic faced zombie or secular man.  After all, it is we who have as our symbol the dying man, who can talk a little of dying, death, and the after.


All Saints Day 2015


  1. Bill says:

    A friend emailed me saying “Thanks Bill, Like the Blog. I oscillate – some years have provided tracts and sweets and ‘God is Love’ pencils etc outside the door, more recently have just ignored it. Have noticed though, that there are more “Satan” masks and tridents and more ghastly things for children e.g sweets in cut off finger form etc. Pumpkin idea – hmmm that is attractive but will attract more callers, so better have the God gear ready….”

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