In defense of trick-or-treating

Catholicism is fabulously frightening, far more so than today’s commercialized creepiness. And for good reason, because Catholicism knows that moral evil is terribly, horribly evil and can send souls to hell.

(Image: Sabina Music Rich/Unsplash.com)

Alas, it is that time of year again when certain suburban moms across America log onto the neighborhood Facebook group to request that Halloween trick-or-treating be moved to a different day so that their kids won’t be out on a school night.

This request is blasphemous, Protestant, and—perhaps worst of all—bureaucratic. Let me explain.

First, it is blasphemous, because proponents of moving Halloween seek to put asunder that which God has joined together, namely, All Hallows’ Eve (or Hallows’ Even, or Halloween) and All Hallows’ Day (also known as All Saints’ Day). Just as naturally as a tadpole becomes a frog and overindulgence in Tootsie Rolls becomes a stomachache, the eve or vigil flows into the feast. It is well known that ancient Jewish feasts began at sundown the evening before, and even today, the Church universally shows that Sundays and major feasts begin at Vespers the evening prior. To trick-or-treat after dark on October 31 is, therefore, meet and just.

In fact, to trick-or-treat, or do any other Halloweeny thing on any day besides October 31, would be utterly nonsensical. The feast of All Saints is an immovable one, so it would take a formal act of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops even to allow your local bishop to move the feast to a different day, let alone a lay person. (The obligation to attend Mass is abrogated if the feast falls on a Saturday or Monday, but that is not the same.) Do these neighborhood parents think they have the authority to override Mother Church and our good Bishops on the matter of feast days and their eves? It is exactly the same as if they asked the neighborhood to move Christmas to avoid it overlapping with their child’s birthday, or to move Saturday so that it follows Wednesday.

“You’re right,” some Christian scold will say, “we shouldn’t move Halloween, because we shouldn’t celebrate it at all. It’s pagan.” No, sir, it is not. Read the previous paragraphs again. Arguing that Halloween is pagan is the same as arguing that Christmas is pagan (and plenty of Protestants do both). Costumes and bonfires and sweet treats are not pagan, but human, and therefore Christian, when used to celebrate true and holy things. Catholics ought to understand this, because our faith is so unabashedly physical. If we are to smell the incense of sacrifice, we must also frolic around a bonfire. If we are to taste the sweetest Manna, the very Flesh of Our Lord, we must also feast on candy.

Your moderate cousin will say, “I let my children trick-or-treat, but only as Marvel superheroes and Disney princesses; no icky, scary costumes!” Why, Miss Moderate? Why deprive them of an excellent opportunity to develop fortitude and have a rollicking good time? Humans have a deep-seated attraction for the gruesome and creepy and violent, something Aristotle seemed to recognize when he said that tragedy plays are supposed to effect catharsis of the feelings of pity and fear. To this day, we watch horror movies and ride rollercoasters and somehow take pleasure in being frightened. Like all pleasures, this can be overindulged, but it can also be baptized and rightly ordered.

After all, where do we Catholics hear the most stories of violent, gruesome deaths? In the martyrology, of course. As a child growing up in the Catholic homeschool group, I attended many an All Saints’ Day party at which we dressed up as saints and then played a version of twenty questions to get the other kids to guess who we were (the Halloween costume phenomenon, continued into the day-of).

There was always a boy stuck full of toy arrows (or Nerf darts, perhaps), going as St. Sebastian; what boy doesn’t want to tape half an arrow to either side of his head and paint on a few bloody wounds? There was usually a girl dressed as St. Joan of Arc: what could be easier or more fun than to borrow her brother’s toy armor, or a lot of her mother’s aluminum foil? At least once, I saw an excellent St. Lucy, carrying her eyeballs on a dish, and I wish more girls would do it. (It strikes me now that one could borrow some props from a lactation consultant and go as St. Agatha, although I think some homeschool moms might have put the kibosh on that particular expression of piety.) There were always some tamer Mother Teresas and Virgin Marys (Virgins Mary?) too, of course, but children’s desire for the dramatic is insatiable.

Once you start considering martyrs as costumes, the possibilities are endless. A boy might make an excellent St. Barnabas—who was skinned alive in the course of his martyrdom, and is thus portrayed holding his own skin—by dressing all in red from head to toe, and carrying a second suit of clothes in some flesh-like color, or maybe a deflated one of those obnoxious inflatable characters people put on their front lawns as holiday decorations (okay, some Halloween “traditions” need to disappear). If it’s heroes and princesses and exotic characters you want, try St. Elizabeth of Hungary in a stunning medieval dress and crown, or St. George with a stuffed dragon, or St. Catherine Labouré in a cornette, or St. John Bosco with his juggling balls.

If this all sounds too complex, consider some more generic possibilities. A skeleton suit? The bones of the martyrs! A classic white-sheet-with-eye-holes ghost costume? One of the holy souls in purgatory! (Their day, after all, is directly after All Saints’ Day. In Hispanic culture, it’s Día de los Muertos, that glorious festival of flowery skeletons, mingling death and life, the grave and the garden.)

Catholicism is fabulously frightening, far more so than today’s commercialized creepiness. And for good reason, because Catholicism knows that moral evil is terribly, horribly evil and can send souls to hell. But we also know that facing the physical evils of torture and death are the quickest way to the Eternal Feast. Children must learn this through play-acting, as they learn all important things. They must learn to get shivers up their spines at the idea of St. Denis carrying his own head to his execution-place, but also to embrace his bravery and laugh at evil in their turn. (A headless horseman costume could be modified easily.)

I do not recommend dressing up as a demon or a witch; some good Catholics, smarter than I, may argue that it’s fine to do so, but I shy away from having children portray real persons who are evil, the opposite of the martyrs and souls we celebrate. (Even Plato says that those who portray evil onstage may begin to imitate it in real life.) But it should be clear by now that the costume possibilities are many, and suddenly, the traditional American Halloween as the Catholic All Hallows’ Eve is perfectly easy to understand.

So, the Halloween-movers and Halloween-cancelers do not have authority or tradition on their side. But do they have reason? Is it, perhaps, impractical to have children going out on a school night, and practical to adjust the tradition to another day? Not at all. I may not be a parent, but I have been a child, and I know that it will not harm your kids one bit to stay out late on a school night just once in a year. In fact, it will probably do them much graver harm to let them imbibe the notion that the Church’s liturgical feasts are subordinate to the secular school schedule. (Reminder: they are not.)

If we were a civilized, Christian society, we’d all get the holy day off. But we are not a civilized Christian society, obviously, and we are forced to work and go to school on November 1—forced to blaspheme the Holy Day of Obligation. Or are we? Parents, what is there to stop you taking the day off work and keeping your kids out of school that day? If you’re afraid to do that or truly can’t because you’re a paramedic, the next best thing is to let your kids party it up the night before. It’s the Catholic thing to do.

So. Halloween is Catholic, and the evil forces that oppose it are either blasphemous secular society or mistaken though well-intentioned Protestant culture. Or, they are Socialism—or, at least, its close cousin, bureaucracy. These Facebook moms talk of moving Halloween as if it’s a PTA meeting. They talk of making and unmaking trick-or-treating as if they invented it. We echo the words of the Lord to the scriptural Job and ask, “Where were you, O Marge, when Halloween was established?” Nowhere, because Halloween was not established. It was not formed by committee, subject to change or cancelation without warning. It arose naturally and organically from the truths of our faith and the wholesome sense of fun we all ought to have, but have apparently forgotten.

O tempora, o mores! God, forgive us! Move Halloween! Trick-or-treating is the last, almost the very last bit of real culture in this society. By culture, I mean something festive that people do together with their neighbors, yet spontaneously. It’s the last thing unfettered by the tyranny of regulation that plagues every aspect of modern life. Gone are the traditions of our other holidays. Amateur fireworks? Too dangerous. Christmas caroling? Disturbing the peace. Trick-or-treating remained fairly unscathed, despite many fake scares about poisoned candy and shamefully well-orchestrated trunk-or-treats in school parking lots. Now, the blasted bureaucracy is coming for that, too. Resist, my friends, resist.

Last year, the CDC did its darndest to cancel trick-or-treating because of the risk of contagion with the coronavirus. This year, let’s do our darndest to infect our neighborhoods with a proper sense of joy. Bedeck your children in all manner of gruesome, saintly costumes and send them forth to collect a double portion of the spoils. The next day will be Monday, but if anyone mentions it, leave her with all the banana Laffy Taffy. And pray for her soul.


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About Rachel Hoover 8 Articles
Rachel Hoover lives and writes in Nashville, Tennessee.

16 Comments

  1. Yea verily, the day will commeth to pass when Halloween and All Saints Day will be the very same day; about the same time that the powers that be also schedule Earth Day (a moveable feast!) to fall on Easter. Its all about syncretism and transgenderized dates, so to speak.

  2. I dressed as the Blessed Mother in Grade 1! So long ago and I regret no photo was taken.

    Missionaries of other faiths have also been martyred by indigenous in the southwest US and in the Philippines.

  3. Halloween Chi Chil Tah McKinley County NM an unexpected late night tap on the door of my thicket hidden missionary trailer home raised a slight alarm [forgot it was Halloween] opened to two of the cutest Navajo little girls with their guardian Mom trick or treating for candy. I wasn’t prepared I never eat candy and thought what? So I smiled and said I’d give them all a very special blessing. Prayed a little longer than usual added some Latin perhaps it was the sweetness of Christ’s presence I thought, at least I like to think so that the three seemed so delighted. As was I visited in my lonely post by angels rather than terrifying ghosts.

    • That’s beautiful, Father! I’m sure your blessing and prayers were the best “treat” the girls received that Hallows’ Eve.

  4. ‘Trick or treat’
    Intimidation so discreet
    Teach them young
    The Way of the evil one

    Harmless fun, No!
    Spiritual corruption has begun
    ‘Dipping head’
    Apple and tub baptismal hub
    Grub and worm at the core
    Of a dark spiritual door

    Quote from Patricia Jermov under another article on this site.
    “For kids Halloween is a costume play with candy treats, but I never understood continuing the ghoulish celebration of fright by some adults.

    In a similar way, children are/were encouraged by adults to sing nursery rhymes while at ‘play’ but the reality is that some of them, at the core, are sadistic and ghoulish, for instance

    “Half a pound of twopenny rice,
    Half a pound of treacle,
    Stir it up and make it nice,
    Pop goes the weasel”

    Dry rice mixed with treacle feed to a weasel (Snitch/Mole/traitor to the Evil One) would bust his gut in a most cruel way.

    To understand the culture of death in the present day we look to the ‘Sign of the Times’ that is reflected in the Halloween festival which ‘today’ represents the body of Frankenstein.
    Please consider continuing via the link

    https://www.catholicworldreport.com/2021/10/09/st-francis-borgia-and-the-face-of-death/#comment-282037

    kevin your brother
    In Christ

    • Hi Kevin,

      I’m not sure I fully understand this comment or your other that you link to, but I’ll try to clarify in case anyone is confused by my article above. Obviously, death and torture shouldn’t be glorified in a twisted and evil way. But All Hallows’ Eve/Day should be about laughing in the face of death and celebrating the witness of the saints, in hopes of imitating them. We might be called to die for our faith someday; and certainly we are called to die in the Faith, in Jesus, because we all must die. I believe a rightly-ordered Halloween celebration helps children to face death with joy and hope rather than despair.

      Also, I think we should guard against the superstition of ascribing satanic meanings to innocent things. Weasels are just icky little animals that no one likes; singing about poisoning/exterminating them in that particular way is pretty gross, but probably just meant to be humorous. You could make up a silly song today about killing cockroaches with boric acid, and it wouldn’t have to mean anything sinister. Same with bobbing for apples: if every fun activity that involves putting your head under water is a twisted reference to baptism and therefore evil, we’re all in a lot of trouble if we go swimming next summer or use a dunk tank. The devils have plenty of influence, for sure, but let’s not give evil MORE power and influence than it really has.

      I think the devil would like to take over Halloween and is probably trying to use it for bad purposes, yes. But we can’t abandon it to his ilk as if it was evil all along. It’s OURS, it’s a good Christian tradition that serves a good purpose! We have to hold onto it to avoid letting him have it!

      • Thank you, Rachel, for your comment. My response was to your opening title
        “In Defence of Trick-or-Treating”

        My opening initial emphasis was to contest in a poetic form your defense of Trick (Intimidation) or Treat (Bribe) which is the basis of corruption and exploitation and is the opposite of Christianity in effect your statement is actually saying that the present-day Halloween festival belongs to the evil one.

        I then state still in poetic form ‘spiritual corruption has begun’ as can be seen in the acceptance of the term ‘Trick or Treat’ by yourself and many Christians which has now been culturalized and is anti-Christian. It could be said that the term ‘Trick or Treat’ is the Devil’s calling card.

        To accept the rest of the poem you would have had to encounter the mocking parallel reality of evil that opposes Christianity or have discussed this reality with a trusted advisor.

        While my understanding of the nursery rhyme ‘Half a pound of tuppenny rice’ relates to my own most difficult lived encounter with dark forces also Weasels are carnivorous.

        kevin your brother
        In Christ

        • Hi Kevin, I only intended “trick-or-treating” as a compound noun describing the standard activity of children knocking on their neighbors’ doors and asking for candy. I am no historical expert, but I think it started with children or traveling groups of singers or play-actors knocking on the door and doing a “trick” such as putting on a little play or singing or something, in exchange for some sweet treat. I know the individual words COULD mean something bad in some contexts, but that’s clearly not what I’m defending here. God bless.

  5. Ms. Hoover,
    Beyond rich and funny. I homeschooled both by girls who are now grown and gone. Sent both the article, the “attitude” in it is much like my oldest. After they read it, we all decided to carve our pumpkins together via zoom tonight. Thank you, you’re a gem!

    • Hi Christine, thank you for your comment! I am glad to hear that it brought you joy and encouraged you to spend some (virtual) time together. God bless.

  6. Well intentioned Protestants? Presumptions about good intentions are just as evil as presumptions about evil intentions. That said, there is reason to suspect that there is excessive homage to Halloween among many as a feast of occultism, not that there is any lack of “openmindedness” among many contemporary Catholics treating explorations of witchcraft as part of their ecumenical responsibility, even to the point of organizing parish events that honor the occult in our liberated post VII Church. Oh, and that would include honoring witches during the Novus Ordo Mass.

    • Hi Edward, thank you for reading and commenting! Of course, All Hallows’ Eve has been grossly perverted by some, and there are always people ready to take something good and twist it into something evil. That’s another good reason for Catholics to take back this holiday that is our own and showcase how to do it right. Fill up the space with good things, then the evil has no room to get in. God bless.

  7. You say you wouldn’t dress as a witch, but the black pointy hatted, broom riding ladies a la Wizard of Oz are not the problem. At all. That’s a fantasy. They don’t exist in real life. Real witches call themselves Wiccan and they’re the ones who believe in their own abilities. How to dress like them? Wear a fat suit, dye your half shaved hair blue or purple, wear facial piercings, a few tats, carry tarot cards, sage and crystals and take them seriously. Now, that’s frightening.

      • “Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness”

        My prays are with you Georgina
        May God keep you in His Care

        kevin your brother
        In Christ

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