Are scary Halloween costumes okay for Catholics? Jimmy Akin has answered this common question in a typically thorough and reassuring way. Sexy, offensively disgusting, or occultish stuff is out (gee, what a loss). But everything else, including spooky stuff, is in.
He makes the sensible point that people are attracted to spooky stuff for a reason — that God made us so that we enjoy small doses of peril and tension, because it prepares us to deal with the real thing, which will surely come along sooner or later. So as long as we don’t spend our lives wallowing in gore and ghoulishness, it’s healthy and normal and perfectly fine to indulge in a little dramatic scaring and screaming from time to time. Therefore, spooky Halloween stuff? A-OK.
His argument reminds me of something my sister once pointed out: that when Daddy tosses the baby up in the air and baby laughs, it’s because there really is a joke there, albeit a very simple one. The situation says, “You’re in danger!” but the baby knows, “But it’s Daddy! I’m fine!” See? Funny stuff right there, if you’re a baby. And a pretty good analogy for the delightfully childlike question, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” Whee! And so, scary Halloween stuff might not only be psychologically healthy (and therefore spiritually sound), but they might be a minor tribute to our trust in the goodness of God.
There’s another answer to the question of whether creepy, gory costumes and other Halloweeny practices (or scary stuff in general) are appropriate for Catholics to indulge in. Some Catholics argue, “This isn’t just a little holiday from the somber demands of my Faith; it’s actually my way of laughing at the devil! I’m spitting in ol’ Nick’s eye and reaffirming the truth of the triumph of the Resurrection when I . . . um. . . buy this rubber mask of a clown with an axe splitting his forehead open. See? Ad majorem dei gloriam! Wooooooooooooooo!” I used to roll my eyes over these rather contrived arguments, thinking, “Gee whiz, just admit that you want to have fun sometimes, and stop trying to make some big religious deal out of everything.”
But honestly, now I think that even overthinking it can be a perfectly legitimate Catholic approach, if that’s what appeals to you.
And also legitimate is yet another approach: skipping Halloween altogether, because it just doesn’t seem right. Don’t be a jerk about it (no training your kids to tell their friends that their Hello Kitty costume is a portal to hell, for instance), and for goodness’ sake let your kids have a cupcake or something. But you don’t have to do Halloween. It’s your call.
Because that’s the nice part about being a Catholic: as long as we’re living our lives in a way that is pleasing to God, we can either be practical and science-based, or we can be analytical and deliberate, or we can be cautious and guarded, or we can be giggling babies. We can figure out what Thomas Aquinas would say, or we can just check our Baltimore Catechism, or we can just remember what our moms used to do. Assuming mom was a reasonable gal, you can just go with that and be at peace.
The Church, like all good mothers, knows that all of her children have the same basic needs, but that personalities vary so much that the same approach will not work for everyone — and that every child (no matter what age) should be exposed to some variety. From this method of mothering, we can take our clue about how to behave on confusing secular/quasi pagan holidays like Halloween, which elbow in and threaten to crash the party of holy days like All Saint’s Day and All Soul’s Day: sometimes the ultra-doctrinal route is the way to go, and other times, you can just put on a Bugs Bunny mask and give glory to God by making your kids laugh. Just keep checking in with your mother, but don’t compare yourself too much with your brother. You’re a different person, and your mother appreciates that (even if your brother doesn’t).
This attitude is the basic principle behind liturgical seasons: some of this, some of that, a time for this, and a time for that. Some people are better at Lent and some people specialize in Christmas. And some people honestly only feel at home when it’s Ordinary Time. The only truly un-Catholic approach is to ignore the seasons altogether.
How delightful it is to be Catholic, when so few things are forbidden — so few things are out of the question. What a wide, wonderful Church! Some people think of our Faith as a strict and limited meal plan, which, followed precisely, will yield the best dietary results. But really, it’s more like a bounteous smorgasbord. It’s possible to overindulge, and if you stay in one spot, you won’t get a balanced meal. But do it right, and you’ll end up with all sorts of things on your plate — and your plate will probably look completely different from the one the other guy brought back to the table.
Especially if you’re sitting next to Jimmy Akin. I mean, the man eats brains.
A version of this post first appeared under a different title in the National Catholic Register in 2012.)