Remembering the dead – or why I hate Halloween

I’m not the only one who gets annoyed at the way in which so many traditional celebrations are now crassly commercialised, or at the general coca colonialisation of Australian culture.  Not that I am a traditionalist, wanting to freeze frame life “back in the day”.  Cultures are dynamic, living things, and in fact I work for social transformation.  I acknowledge that feeling miffed at the paganisation of Christian feasts is somewhat ironic – the way in which ‘Christmas’ is treated in popular culture could be seen as fair return for the Christian appropriation of the pagan spring festival at Easter.  Yet somehow every year I find Halloween increasingly vexatious.

What is the eve of the feast of all hallows – or all saints – about for those subteens dressed as zombies who mug us for unhealthy food?

It’s a strange world in which one is labelled an old grumpy for not acquiescing cheerfully to demands for sugary luxuries from spoilt middle class kids, and, at the same time, is vilified as a bleeding heart (or worse) for suggesting that we could do better in responding to demands for safety and food of the starving and persecuted knocking on our national door.  Lots of trickery and not many treats in that policy arena.

In the Christian liturgical calendar November is a time when we remember the dead and contemplate the mystery of passing on to a new stage of life.  It is about the fullness of life, and our faith that, ultimately, death has no dominion.  It is not about being undead.

In parish churches around the world memorial books will be filled with the names of the dead.  Naturally, we remember relatives and friends whose lives have nurtured ours, helping us to live more fully.  We remember too lives lived more publicly.

On 16 November many will remember with Ignatian communities the University of Central America martyrs – six Jesuit priests teaching at El Salvador’s most prestigious university, and two women co-workers.  Their story continues to inspire and give life to the struggle for justice for the poor and oppressed.  The forces which sought to silence these seekers of truth and justice did not win, even though more than 70,000 El Salvadorians died in that long struggle.

It puzzles and disturbs me that cultures obsessed with youth and beauty also seem to have a crush on vampires and zombies at the moment.  Is it a kind of unconscious acknowledgment that our communities may be living off the blood of others, or that our way of life is more like being undead?

Halloween brings into focus two competing visions: Shaun of the Dead versus the hope of the resurrection.

It may not always look like it, but death shall have no dominion.

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