Halloween comes every year, and with it the controversy raised by a number of Christians against Halloween, which in Italy involved exorcists, theologians and even some bishops. Without wanting to offend anyone, the impression is that Catholics participating in these controversies often do not know either the origin of Halloween or that of these campaigns.
As the name implies, Halloween (All Hallows Eve) is simply “the eve of All Saints” (Hallow is an old English name for “holy”). In Northern Europe, Catholicism incorporated some Celtic elements, such as bonfires and pumpkins, but this is also true of Christmas and Easter. As for the macabre references, these also have a Catholic origin, precisely in the popular belief that on the eve of All Saints’ Day the veil that separates Purgatory from our world becomes thinner and the souls in Purgatory manifest themselves to the living. It is certainly true that in Halloween there are traces of the pre-Christian festival of Samhain. But even at Christmas, there are traces of the celebrations of the winter solstice, and it is part of the genius of Christianity to have absorbed and transformed the pre-Christian celebrations. For over a thousand years, this fact has never raised any special controversy.
The attack on Halloween as a pagan and superstitious holiday was promoted by Protestants, especially the Puritans, as an anti-Catholic attitude. The English Parliament banned any celebration of Halloween and All Saints in 1647. In the United States, the folklore of Halloween was recreated in the nineteenth century by Irish immigrants (Catholics).
The second major assault on Halloween came in the 1980s by evangelical Protestants, many of whom were fundamentalists, who linked it to Satanism and witchcraft. The preachers and fundamentalist authors who launched this campaign—including Jack T. Chick—were almost all anti-Catholic. Catholic origin and Satanic origin of the festival were for them the same thing. In this context, we find some real hoaxes. For example, propaganda in favor of the celebration of Halloween even by Christians has been attributed to the founder of the Church of Satan, Anton Szandor LaVey (1930-1997), who has never addressed this issue. The alleged quotes by LaVey, divulged by Chick and others, are simply false. In truth, only a few small Satanist groups—like the tiny Italian Satanist Union, which only operates through the internet—list Halloween among their festivities. The major Satanic groups completely ignore the celebration. Turning Halloween into the main festival of Satanists is certainly false. Neither do the testimonies of “former Satanists” that populate the Internet deserve much credit. Anyone who knows Satanism a little bit can easily identify them as mythomaniacs.
In the 90s, several Catholics, ignoring their origin, revived these Protestant campaigns against Halloween. Later, the urban legend spread that Pope Benedict XVI condemned the celebration of Halloween (he did not!). These campaigns have been supported by some bishops, but have spread out especially thanks to certain exorcists, who are usually familiar with fundamentalist Protestant sources. Sometimes, as in the case of father Aldo Buonaiuto—one of the most tenacious opponents of Halloween—the background subculture is provided by the evangelical movement “against sects”, which tends to detect a manifestation of devil in any “sect” and in any form of esotericism. Not surprisingly, father Buonaiuto is a collaborator of the bizarre Italian police “Anti-Sects Team,” known more for having embarrassed Italy in international discussion on religious freedom than for having achieved results.
I agree, of course, with those who complain against the commercialization of Halloween and the bad taste of some gadgets. We may also say that importing to countries like Italy holidays extraneous to their history does not make much sense, except the sense of favoring a certain business. Yet, the idea that Halloween, pumpkins, bonfires and children going door to door are something satanic was born in an anti-Catholic Protestant environment many centuries after the beginning of these traditions. Those who do not want to participate in the celebrations of Halloween have their good and respectable reasons to do so. However, it makes no sense to terrorize parents who let their children celebrate Halloween with their peers, by pointing to them as if they were Satanists. This is just a way to trouble consciences and to make many families suffer needlessly. Seen from the United States, where thousands of mothers—including many Catholic mothers—help their children decorate houses and gardens for Halloween, this controversy appears surreal.