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Churches Find New Ways to ‘Clean Up’ Halloween

While some Christian denominations observe All Saints Day on November 1st, not all of them are comfortable with how most people in this country celebrate the night before. This is because the custom of dressing up as ghosts and witches is seen by some as a pagan tradition celebrating death, incompatible with the Christian faith. Florian Martin spoke with Christians and a religious studies professor about the relationship between Halloween, All Saints Day and Christianity.


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“We celebrate it as a religious holiday.”

For Father Joe O’Steen of the St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Pearland, Halloween is clearly a Christian holiday. His church organizes a pumpkin patch every year, and this year worshipers were invited to come to the Sunday service on October 31st in costumes. He says Halloween celebrates the feast on the night before All Saints Day and the spooky traditions don’t bother him because he doesn’t believe in them.

“We don’t take seriously the pagan parts of it anyway. I don’t believe in ghosts or particularly witches, except as a peculiar religion.”

Zeke Zeiler works for the Christian organization Houston Bridges, which focuses on international students. Although he doesn’t consider Halloween a Christian holiday, he says it’s important for his organization to participate in the festivities, so as not to alienate college students — its target crowd.

“If you withdraw too much from society, your friends and neighbors and even the graduate students we work with may get the wrong impression… I wouldn’t have my kids celebrate the evil part of Halloween; we do a friendly fall festival. But most children are probably more corrupted by media and video games than they are by what ends up being a fairly harmless fall festival.”

Dr. Lynn Mitchell, director of Religious Studies at the University of Houston, says forms of Halloween have been celebrated by peoples all over the world for centuries. The Catholic Church later established All Saints Day on November 1st to give the pagan celebration a Christian meaning and take out some of its un-Christian parts.

“The Church tried to kind of clean them up a little bit and get rid of some of the superstitions and especially the superstitions of divining, that is trying to talk with the dead and things like that.”

Protestant churches don’t observe All Saints Day, so they don’t consider Halloween a compromise. But, Dr. Mitchell says, since you can’t make people give up their traditions, churches that oppose the holiday organize their own spook-less versions of Halloween, resulting in yet another transformation of it.

“Halloween has, for Protestants, has basically been divorced from the church and completely redone because Protestants do not have All Saints Day on their calendar because that’s a Roman Catholic day, just like they don’t have Mardi Gras on their calendar.”

Mitchell says Mardi Gras and even Christmas and Easter are basically compromises between pagan traditions and Christian celebrations. In America, Christmas wasn’t celebrated until the massive immigration of Catholics and Lutherans.

Whatever will happen to Halloween as we know it, for now it mostly means candy and fun for kids — no matter if they dress up as demons or angels.

Florian Martin, KUHF News.