But there are no monsters
Halloween violates our implicit promise to defend those who we tell there are no monsters. Here's 7 reasons to dial back the celebration.
You like the movie “Aliens”? I do. Besides masterful performances from heroine Sigourney Weaver as Ripley, the late Bill Paxton (Hudson), Michael Biehn (Hicks), Lance Henriksen (Bishop, the “synthetic life form”), Paul Reiser (Burke)—and the rest of the cast—and being one of the few examples of a movie sequel that’s better than its original (“The Empire Strikes Back” is arguably in this small and hallowed club), the movie touches a deep place in the human psyche.
There’s this exchange between little Newt and Ripley.
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“My mommy always said there were no monsters. No real ones. But there are.”
“Yes, there are, aren't there.”
“Why do they tell little kids that?”
We’ve all been told by mom or dad—or some adult—that there are no real monsters. That the closet is just a closet. That the dark basement down the stairs with creaky sounds and bangs is just the furnace. And when we grow up, occasionally—at least with me—we get goose bumps going down a dark staircase, or when the lights go out during a storm.
And when we grow up and read the news, we know there are monsters. Not the kind with double, drool-dripping jaws, or dreadlocks and mandibles. (OK—a small detour, because whoever greenlit the truly brain-dead idea of a movie with the Alien fighting the Predator deserves to be forced to watch the movie in a loop, A Clockwork Orange-style, for at least five years as penance for the movie equivalent of splashing tomato soup on a Van Gough.) The monsters we grow up to see are the ones who snatch five-year-old kids from the street, or who beat their own small daughter to death with their fists.
Grown-ups tell little kids there are no monsters because we make an implicit promise to protect them from the monsters.
Sometimes, the monsters get the best of us, despite our vigilance. Even the most ardent helicopter parent can’t be everywhere with their kids. So we send them off to school, like the parents of kids in Newtown, or Uvalde, or Columbine, who sent their kids off, some of them never to see them alive again. Saying there are no monsters is a dangerous promise to make, but the other options are worse.
Telling little kids to be scared of monsters is kind of monstrous. We tell them to be cautious: “stranger danger.” But we leave out the details of what true monsters do. It’s better that the kids trust mom, dad, and the adults charged with their protection than they learn the ugly, true, sickening, details of what monsters do. The reason James Cameron never shows the Alien actually killing someone on-screen is because our minds are far more effective at inventing that horror than the camera could ever do.
Yet, there’s a more pernicious lie than telling kids there are no monsters, when we know there are. It’s telling kids there are monsters but the monsters aren’t monstrous. Some people believe there are no real monsters, that people who do terrible things are the product of society, or a bad upbringing, or some kind of racial, economic, or religious inequity. They believe that monstrous deeds are not the result of evil, but the result of poor social engineering. Or they believe in nihilism or will to power like Nietzsche proffered.
As a Christian, I believe it’s far worse to believe that the devil isn’t real than that Jesus never lived. If there’s no opposer of humanity, then there’s really no need for a savior, since we are the captains of our own souls and destiny. The devil’s best disguise is that of a friendly monster with horns and a pointy tail. We can connect with that movie monster and dismiss it as the product of overactive imagination, or fears of the dark stairs. We can wish it away like we do when we watch a movie that gives us nightmares. We can go back to the comfort of mom and dad telling us “there are no monsters” and wish the devil away. Even the most hardened atheist, or the most doubtful agnostic realizes that the best way to hide a monster is to deny it exists.
Dean Coril got away with torturing and brutally murdering over two dozen teenage boys because Houston police in the 1970s refused to believe the missing boy cases were linked. It was only because one of his teen helpers killed him and confessed, that compelled the authorities to admit the enormity of this monstrous evil. Some parents in the neighborhood told their kids to avoid the “candyman” because he was creepy, and to avoid the two boys who hung out around him because they were degenerates. Parents of missing kids implored the police to do more than write off their missing boys as runaways. But police wouldn’t believe there was a monster.
When we refuse to believe that there are monsters—that politics, or society, or brainwashing is the source of all evil in the world—then we are preaching a kind of religion that puts mankind on the throne of God.
This is one of the reasons I am not a fan of Halloween. Oh, I’m not a curmudgeon who turns off my porch light and refuses to give candy to kids. (Not going to lie, I was one of those at one time.) I put on my costume and take my kids on the local candy shakedown until their bags are overfull with a dentist’s nightmare of sugary treats. When kids come to our door, they get a handful of the same. Last year, we ran a raffle where kids drew from a basket and winners got giant (I mean huge) chocolate bars.
Besides getting sacks full of diabetes-inducing fat pills, I simply see no useful reason why there’s a holiday called Halloween, or why anyone should celebrate it. It’s a holiday celebrating making monsters into movie creatures, to deny the reality of monsters. It’s a holiday with a religious origin, for those who are ignorant.
It’s a day set aside to celebrate a lack of knowledge, by those who don’t care enough to gain it. Halloween is a feast of stupid self-indulgence. There’s nothing positive I can say about this day, no matter how much fun it may be to dress up, join a bunch of other people, walk door to door demanding candy, then go home and gorge yourself on it while watching horror movies.
In fact, I will give you seven reasons why Halloween is dumb, and celebrated by the ignorant. If you want to keep celebrating, maybe you shouldn’t read the rest of this, lest you become infected by knowledge and lose your desire to behave like a boorish ignoramus on October 31st. Halloween violates our implicit promise to defend those who we tell there are no monsters.
1. Halloween is a religious holiday.
If you didn’t know that, it’s because your only source of information must be ESPN and beer commercials. Most people have some vague idea of where holidays like Christmas and Easter originate; they are religious holidays. But you won’t find Halloween in the Bible. Anywhere. Trust me. Or better yet, go read the Bible yourself and let me know when you find Halloween there.
Isn’t Halloween short for All Hallows Eve? Yes, it is. And isn’t All Hallows Eve the day before All Saints Day (All Hallows Day), which is November 1st? Yes, it is. Isn’t there another day called All Souls Day? Yes, there is, and if you knew that, you’re probably Roman Catholic. Here’s the progression: All Saints Day is a Catholic Feast day commemorating the saints who have entered Heaven. It’s followed by All Souls Day, which commends us to pray for souls who are being purified in purgatory or have entered Heaven to commune with us who are still living on the Earth.
In short, many Catholics believe in the un-Biblical teaching that we can pray for the dead and the dead will pray for us.
Somewhere between the years 609 A.D. and 741 A.D., various Popes ordained a celebration of the Saints who have entered Heaven, and by 846, Pope Gregory IV declared November 1st to be All Saints Day. In this way, Halloween is definitely a religious holiday, celebrating the souls of the dead.
Way back into what historians call “antiquity” (the time before recorded history), the Celtics and druids celebrated a Pagan holiday called Samhain (SOW-in), as the end of summer, halfway between the Autumnal Equinox and the Winter Solstice. They believed that the shortening of the days, and the advent of cold weather (it’s northern Europe after all, nasty climate and all) signified the dying of the world each year, and that evil spirits would walk the earth looking to possess or consume the living. They would dance around bonfires and dress up in various costumes to “entertain the spirits,” to avoid being possessed.
Here we have the perfect confluence of beliefs: the Catholic belief in the communion of the saints, and the Pagan belief in warding off evil spirits. It only made sense for the Pope to declare November 1st as All Saints Day, since the church was trying to evangelize the heathens in northern Europe. It was a whole lot easier to turn a pagan holiday into a Christian one than to give those people knowledge of the Bible. Besides, back in those days, Bibles were rare and only possessed by rich clergymen and priests. Ignorance was the norm, and Christianity was too hard to explain to such ignorant savages, went their logic. Better to just give them another holiday.
Halloween is celebrated by some small groups today as a religious holiday. Modern druids (the Order of Bards, Ovates & Druids) celebrate Samhain much as the ancients did. One other group celebrates Halloween: the Church of Satan (not going to link to it). They, in particular, love Halloween, because it celebrates dead things, dark things, and scary things.
Satanists embrace what this holiday has become, and do not feel the need to be tied to ancient practices. This night, we smile at the amateur explorers of their own inner darkness, for we know that they enjoy their brief dip into the pool of the “shadow world.” We encourage their tenebrous fantasies, the candied indulgence, and the wide-ranging evocation of our aesthetics (while tolerating some of the chintzy versions), even if it is but once a year. For the rest of the time, when those not of our meta-tribe shake their heads in wonder at us, we can point out that they may find some understanding by examining their own All Hallows Eve doings, but we generally find it simpler to just say: “Think of the Addams Family and you'll begin to see what we're about.”
I don’t want to celebrate anything dead, dying, dark or scary. I don’t want my children celebrating those things. I don’t care what you think about God and Jesus Christ, or miracles, angels, or Heaven. We are here on this Earth full of living things, powered by a warm sun which provides 100% of the light on this planet, and we communicate and exist here among LIVING things. We bury dead things, because they rot and deliquesce.
Satanists stand in opposition to God and everything God stands for. They hold selfishness as the highest virtue. Anything Satanists celebrate is something I automatically, by definition, stand against. If you are a Christian, there’s only one reason you would celebrate Halloween, and that’s the bliss of ignorance. Gain a little knowledge and stand for light and life, not darkness and death (even if it’s candy coated).
2. Halloween is not a family holiday.
A 1992 study in consumer behavior at Rutgers University noted that Halloween in several respects appears to represent “oppositional consumption patterns” as compared to Christmas (and Thanksgiving as well). For example, there is no communal family meal, rather children independently go from house to house in search of candy. In contrast to the openness and informality of interactions during Christmas and Thanksgiving, Halloween is characterized by secretiveness and the formal “masking” of personal identity.
You don’t see movies made about busy executives struggling to get home for Halloween. You don’t see college students loading their cars to make the drive to grandma’s house for the traditional Halloween feast. They’re more likely buying beer and ordering pizza. Halloween is a day when we seek out the worst influences in our lives and encourage mayhem. When we get older, we stock up on candy, turn on the porch light, and await the parade of children while we hand out treats and pretend to be scared by little ghouls.
Halloween’s traditions involve going to the store and buying decorations, bats, vampires, and costumes. There may be an old-fashioned bobbing for apples or pumpkin-carving. But our memories typically involve some form of mischief, not hugs and grandma’s pumpkin pies. We don’t even watch football on Halloween.
3. Halloween is about greed.
On Christmas, we give our kids gifts, and encourage them to give gifts—or at least Christmas cards. On Easter, we remind our kids of the gifts that God gave, or talk about spring being a time of renewal. Only on Halloween do we encourage kids to take as much as they can, and give nothing back. (It’s the Pirate Code, arghhhh!)
Getting, taking, wanting are the three themes of Halloween, and none of these are values I want to teach my children. Kids compare their hauls at the end of the night to see who got the most candy, and then wait until the other kids are distracted to steal their stash (just the Reese’s cups please).
Sure, yeah, they’re kids. They fight over anything and everything. They’re greedy little beings, and if it wasn’t for them being cute, we’d all consider giving them away. I get it, I have two boys. But there’s no value to actively promoting bad habits and behavior. There’s no way to turn “trick or treat!” into a polite request. I wouldn’t have my kids dress up as zombies on July 4th and go door to door saying “may I please have some candy, if you don’t mind, or I’ll toilet-paper your yard.” The implied threat of a “trick” is simply brutish.
Getting without earning, and taking without giving are values more in line with Satanists than Christians.
Retailers love Halloween. It’s the run-up to Christmas shopping these days. Used to be, you wouldn’t see any Christmas decorations until Thanksgiving. Those days are long gone: now Halloween is the starting line for the big Christmas shopping rush. Retailers would start at Labor Day if they could get away with it but back-to-school interferes in the northern states.
Stores love it when you wait till the last minute to get your small fries their costumes. One retailer admitted,
Back when I was in the business, I believe we brought in 16% of our annual sales in the three week run-up to Halloween. And as the holiday got closer, rather than feeling a need to drop prices, you’d start to get the sense that you could raise the prices on costumes rather than lower them (we didn’t). In fact, you’ve never quite seen desperation like that of the thirty year old on a Saturday, who has a costume party to go to that very night. It seemed like they’d pay anything for a reasonably acceptable costume. And so we’d cheer for procrastination.
It’s bad enough that Christmas, Easter, and every other holiday on the calendar has become a reason for a sale or commercialization, TV specials, gift-giving, and spending money. Halloween has little other purpose than retailers to find ways for you to hand over your cash to buy a new costume every year. God forbid that little Johnny wears the same thing twice, or you make your own homemade costume.
Even taken with a grain of salt and a healthy dose of charm, Halloween has become too commercialized.
4. Halloween is about displaying children as objects.
The word “objectifying” is popular these days. It means anything from gender stereotyping to sexual exploitation. If holidays are a lens magnifying our society, then Halloween’s microscope reveals a pretty filthy concoction. Kids are influenced by television, movies, and their parents. I don’t need to tell you the stuff that goes on today on TikTok, or YouTube, or at youth-oriented concerts.
Especially with young girls, Halloween costumes have become little X-rated versions of their older strippers-masquerading-as-singers.
These are girls who have bought into the belief that their social power comes from their sex appeal. They have bought into the belief that to make themselves into the object of male desire is a fun and exciting thing. But what they, and many women and girls, don’t know is that when this idea becomes a reality, it is far from empowering.
Letting kids wear whatever they want is a really, really bad idea. Dressing up as a little puppy or a cowboy is cute, but dressing up as a stripper is not. Some parents go too far the other way: they dress up their kids like some kind of decoration. These parents dressed their daughter as a selfie (warning: language NSFW). What kind of awful experience and lifelong complexes will that give the poor child?
One of our kids is very clothes-aware. It was hard for him to even don a pirate outfit for two hours. I can’t imagine forcing our kids to dress up for Halloween, have other kids (and parents) compare their costumes with ours, and generally be judged as cool or nerd based on the results. It has to be the most shallow, prejudice-inducing, stereotype-reinforcing, scary experience imaginable. It’s amazing I made it through life without a psychotic break from my own childhood.
5. Halloween is about secrecy and fear.
Masks obscure. Costumes disguise. It’s okay for kids to pretend they are someone else, when they play. It’s even fun to dress up. But take a night when everyone is in disguise, and it’s all about secrecy. And fear. In the age of COVID, we’re all used to masked people, which in itself has indelibly harmed the development of countless toddlers and young children who never saw the faces of their teachers or classmates. I’m against masking when it means nobody can see a smile.
Trick-or-treat is traditionally at night. Lately, for safety’s sake, it’s during daylight hours. That’s a good thing, since it gives cars better visibility when kids are walking the streets in dark outfits. The reason it’s at night is because the dark is scary. Scary animals like bats and spiders are symbols of Halloween. Scary music, images, movies, all tied in to Halloween. The purpose of Halloween is to scare people; for kids to scare adults, for adults to scare kids.
Elaborate haunted houses have become a $6 billion industry. No longer a small, neighborhood affair, attractions rivaling theme-park production values are all over the country. Scaring is big business. You can’t be scared if you know what’s about to happen. You make something really scary by not telling people what’s behind that dark door. You put them in the dark, disorient them, send hot moist air down their necks, pop a few pyrotechnics and flash-bangs, and jump out of the dark in a really creepy costume. It’s adrenaline city after that.
There’s something sinister about being scared. It’s a rush for sure, but there’s other ways to get a rush. Roller coasters, water slides, skydiving, and zip lining all come to mind. But standing in the dark waiting to be scared into heart failure (and spending $40 to do it) is a thrill I can do without. If you’re a Christian, remember that fear is the opposite of faith. I can be scared and do something that builds my faith, or I can be scared for the sake of being scared.
There’s no value to experiencing fear for fear’s sake. It doesn’t overcome the fear by doing it (nobody goes through the same haunted house 20 times in a row, but they do ride Space Mountain 20 times in a row—I’ve done it). If you’re too ignorant to get your thrill some other way than a dark room with creepy people in costumes holding bloody knives, keep on celebrating Halloween like it was Thanksgiving or Christmas.
6. Halloween rewards bad behavior.
Do you know how trick-or-treat started? It was self defense. Back at the turn of the 20th century, Halloween was celebrated by Irish immigrants (remember, Roman Catholics), who went around in drunken mobs committing acts of vandalism and general mayhem. To combat this, merchants got together and started having festivals around the holiday. They targeted children, encouraging them toward less destructive behavior by handing out candy.
Halloween is a dumbed-down version of beast-night. Drunk teenagers and college students do plenty of damage. The insurance industry labels Halloween as the worst night of the year for vandalism. From simple pranks like toilet-papering your house, to serious crime like spray painting your car, Halloween is a time when crime is tolerated, and bad behavior is encouraged. Trick-or-treat is the training ground for more serious mischief as kids get older.
7. Halloween is incompatible with the Bible.
Only the Biblically illiterate would celebrate Halloween. If you don’t believe in God or the Bible, I have no beef with you. Now you know you’re celebrating a religious festival based on a mixture of pagan, Catholic, and Satanist beliefs, dedicated to communing with the dead, focused on greed, self-gratification, objectifying children, secrecy, fear, and mayhem. If you’re okay with that, then keep on rockin’ Halloween—it’s your nickel.
If you call yourself a Christian, then I’ll safely assume you’re not interested in following pagan or Satanist beliefs. You are, in fact, following a Catholic feast day. I’ll quote from Catholic Online:
Catholics celebrate All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day in the fundamental belief that there is a prayerful spiritual communion between those in the state of grace who have died and are either being purified in purgatory or are in heaven (the 'church penitent' and the 'church triumphant', respectively), and the 'church militant' who are the living.
Purgatory is malarchy. There’s no such place. You can’t pray the dead into Heaven any more than you can pray the dead sinner out of Hell. There are only two destinations for the departed soul in the Bible: Heaven and Hell. The idea of being forgiven through Christ in this life yet not being pure enough to enter Heaven in death is ridiculously flawed; for this to be true either Christ’s forgiveness is incomplete (it’s not, see John 3:16), or our living bodies carry our mortal sins beyond the grave for the elect in Christ (they don’t).
When you die, the Bible says your eternal fate is cast. This is the whole reason Christians preach repentance in Christ. If you can put off your repentance until after you die and then “do time” in Purgatory until you’ve “repented enough” then nobody would enter Hell—they’d all be in Purgatory waiting for us to pray them out. The Bible doesn’t support this, and the Bible doesn’t support Halloween. There’s no “pray for the dead and the dead will pray for you.” Pray instead for the living and leave the dead to God.
1 John 4:18 reads “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” 1 John 4:8 says “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” If you celebrate Halloween, you celebrate fear. If you have fear, you don’t fully have love. And to the degree you are not full of love, you don’t know God.
If you celebrate Halloween, you are distancing yourself from God and everything God is, desires, and loves. In fact, Halloween is the opposite of God and His plan. The quickest way to ignorance is separation from God.
Halloween is the only day on the calendar dedicated to the ignorant. Embracing Halloween, you are embracing ignorance of God, ignorance of everything good, everything bright, warm, illuminated, and glad in your life. You are embracing fear, darkness, death and mayhem.
Worse than all that—you are taking the promise you made to your own kids, or received from your parents, and turning it into a mockery. You said, or heard, that there are no monsters. Not real ones. But there are. Pretending it’s all part of some elaborate celebration of darkness, fright, and costumes is saying the monsters are really there, but they’re not really bad. We all know the monsters are there, and they are bad.
Eat the candy, play dress-up with your kids, fine. But you don’t have to celebrate Halloween, because the devil loves it when we say he’s not real.
"OK—a small detour, because whoever greenlit the truly brain-dead idea of a movie with the Alien fighting the Predator deserves to be forced to watch the movie in a loop, A Clockwork Orange-style, for at least five years as penance for the movie equivalent of splashing tomato soup on a Van Gough."
I'm going to HARD disagree here. By the time "Alien vs. Predator" came out, the "Alien" franchise was a husk of what it was during the (first) Scott / Cameron era, and arguably jumped the shark after Joss Whedon resurrected Ripley in Alien 4. It was a moribund franchise, and completely fair game to finally pit the two biggest alien baddies from the '80s against each other in the mid-Aughts (especially after the Alien trophy case scene in "Predator 2"). Fortunately, for the "Alien" purists, you got "Prometheus" and "Alien: Covenant" to retcon the AvP silliness (which I enjoyed), and I'll leave it up to you to decide if the cost was worth it. (While I have my own issues with Scott's return to the "Alien" franchise, it's largely due to "Prometheus" being greenlit and funded instead of an adaptation of Lovecraft's "At the Mountains of Madness" from Guillermo del Toro that was also in contention at the time.)
Now, to get to the meat of your actual post. I'm one of those heathen celebrants of Westernized commercialized secular "holidays". Christmas is the big one in my book, followed by Thanksgiving (not really a religious holiday), followed by Halloween. I'm not one to dress up any more, but I do enjoy the horror movie marathons and people having fun with the spookiness of everything.
This year, I celebrated the holiday by continuing a local tradition started by our housing complex during COVID where we got the neighbors together to watch the Bears get stomped by the Cowboys, invited some of the newer residents out to fire up their grills and demonstrate their hot wings game, and provided a safe place for the kids in the complex to get together and run around with each other in their costumes (that they were very proud of). Given the cold Chicago winter that will soon be upon us, the Halloween holiday is a great excuse for some outdoor fellowship and a great opportunity for us to strike back against the Putnam-esque atomization that I believe is at the heart of what plagues us in this day. I think we were so successful that we MIGHT actually end up with some neighbors getting together to do stuff on their own in the weeks ahead. (I'm rooting for another grilling competition, which I will likely have to miss due to some extended travel soon.)
Given that we also have a City-wide election in February to choose a new mayor and aldermen, I figured that I would play some "School House Rock" civics as well. Our long-time representative is stepping down, and it's a wide-open field at the moment to see who succeeds him. I managed to wrangle four of the six candidates (read: bribe with wings and candy corn) to come over and spend some quality time with our residents to learn about what we're looking for in our candidate and to start to put actual names and faces to the nodes on the edges of the constituent / representative graph. Despite a slow start, it was a VERY productive time spent, and I'm very confident that regardless of who we choose to represent us in City Hall, we have some quality human beings working to be picked for that job.
As someone who grew up in the Christian church and was subjected to my share of church "Fall Carnivals" that tried to distract us from the fact that our friends were getting to do real trick-or-treating back in the neighborhood, I'm not going to try and convince you that Halloween isn't the occasion that you imagine it to be. There's plenty to be critical of (can we just stop with the "sexy" Mad Lib costumes?), but there's also plenty of value to extract from day if you can recognize the value of adults hanging back together and chit-chatting while kids proud in their costumes (I'd actually argue that the holiday is more about showing off than hiding anything) run around the neighborhood together with their friends (old friends, and new friends made that day).
You may lament that college students and relatives don't make plans to return home for the holiday in the same way they treat Thanksgiving and Christmas (and to a lesser degree, Easter). I'd argue that misses the point. Halloween isn't a "family" holiday, it's a "neighbors" holiday. And I'd argue that as we grow more distant with our neighbors and find ourselves living alongside strangers, we can use as many "neighbor" holidays as we can get. And I'm going to celebrate those opportunities, every chance I get.