In recent years Halloween has gone from a primarily child-oriented holiday to an occasion of commercial importance comparable to Christmas or Easter. National retail sales figures indicate that Halloween is the 6th biggest holiday for retailers — behind Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Easter, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day — and rapidly gaining ground, particularly among young adults.
The trend has now sparked a movement of sorts — led by the Spirit Halloween retail chain — to move Halloween permanently to the last Saturday in October. Their online petition at this link (http://www.spirithalloweekend.com/ ) asks Congress to lend its official endorsement to the change, although that would not be strictly necessary since Halloween is not a federal or national holiday.
The main arguments in favor of the switch are that 1) it would make life easier for kids and parents if Halloween did not fall on a school or work day, and 2) it would mean more income for costume shops, candy stores, bars, movie theaters, and other establishments that make money from the holiday.
Not addressed is the effect such a move would have upon the religious significance of Halloween, which by definition is the “eve of All Hallows” or All Saints Day on Nov. 1.
Some Christians argue that with the emphasis that the modern Halloween places on partying, ghost and horror stories, paganism, witchcraft, and other forms of evil, it would be better to separate Halloween completely from All Saints Day or any Christian observance. Others, including myself, would argue that the occult/evil character of the modern Halloween is all the more reason for the Church NOT to cede any ground, and to use it as a ready-made occasion for reflection upon our beliefs concerning death and the hereafter, the communion of saints, and praying for the departed.
After all, wasn’t that the original idea behind the Church “baptizing” the ancient Celtic feast of Samhain and turning it into All Saints Day in the first place? As G. K. Chesterton wrote in “The Catholic Church and Conversion”:
“I think I am the sort of man who came to Christ from Pan and Dionysus and not from Luther and Laud; that the conversion I understand is that of the Pagan and not the Puritan; and upon that antique conversion is founded the whole world that we know…. On the height of that ancient empire and that international experience humanity had a vision. It has not had another; but only quarrels about that one. Paganism was the largest thing in the world and Christianity was larger; and everything else has been comparatively small.”
Also, attempts to reschedule holidays for convenience or for commercial reasons are nothing new and have always sparked opposition from those who felt a change would desecrate or dishonor the occasion it was meant to commemorate. Most recently this occurred about 40 years ago when the Federal government moved several established holidays such as Washington’s and Lincoln’s birthdays, Memorial Day, and Columbus Day to Mondays.
Another notable holiday controversy occurred in 1939, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt, in response to appeals from retailers who wanted to extend the holiday shopping season, moved Thanksgiving Day from the last Thursday in November – the date originally set by Abraham Lincoln in 1863 – to the previous (third or fourth) Thursday. Acceptance of or opposition to the change tended to fall along partisan lines, with the earlier date dubbed “Democrat Thanksgiving” or “Franksgiving” and the later date “Republican Thanksgiving.” The dispute was not finally resolved until 1944, when FDR and Congress agreed on the current fourth Thursday in November observance. However, some states continued to observe the later date until the mid-1950s.
Even religious holidays are not “sacred” in the sense of being unchangeable or universal. Eastern and Western Christians observe Christmas on different dates (Dec. 25 in the West, Jan. 6 in the East) and usually have different dates for Easter or Pascha (as much as five weeks apart).
In the U.S. solemnities such as Corpus Christi, the Feast of the Holy Family, Epiphany, and (in some dioceses) the Ascension have been moved to Sunday. The U.S. bishops have also removed the obligation to attend Mass on All Saints Day and some other holy days of obligation if they fall on a Saturday or Monday –- primarily for the convenience of priests so they do not have a back to back full Mass schedule, and to avoid confusion among the faithful as to which Mass “counts” for what solemnity.
If a Saturday Halloween observance were to become established in the U.S., I presume there would be nothing preventing the USCCB from deciding to observe the Solemnity of All Saints on the following Sunday regardless of the actual date. Although that would take some getting used to, and would be regarded by some as sacrilegious, I would not be opposed to this for the reason mentioned above – I think Halloween and All Saints should remain linked, and Halloween need not be surrendered to pagans, Satanists, or to commercial interests alone.
What do you think of these changes? Is moving religious, popular, or civic holidays around for the sake of convenience a good pastoral move, a concession to worldliness and indifference, or does it make that much difference?