Thursday 26 October 2023

“Of ghouls and ghosts and long-leggedy beasties”

I’m not a particularly squeamish person. I can cope with watching hospital dramas on the television, I am a first-aider and I’m not easily spooked. There is something, however about the proliferation of Halloween decorations in almost every public space and shop which gives me the creeps — but perhaps not in the way the owners intend. It is a slightly odd thing to want to terrify our neighbours with images we would normally run a mile from at other times of the year. Why do we delight in ghouls and ghosts but not so much in the “spirits and souls of the just”? The reasons for keeping Halloween are well known — emerging from a conflation of the All Souls’ Day observance with pagan customs. And whilst I would never want to be a party-pooper, perhaps this year we might try and think about it in a different way.

Perhaps those skeletons and skulls remind us that one day we too will die. At the end of a famous crypt in Rome three real skeletons hold a plaque which says, “What you are now, we once were, and what we are now, you too will be.” At the end, we all must die, but the remembrance of death on this 31st October falls on the vigil of one of the great feasts of the Church’s year, that of All Saints. During the persecution of the Emperor Diocletian, a celebration was called for to cover all those many witnesses to the Christian faith, too numerous to have a day each in the calendar. At the end we all must die, but, like them, we must see our death as the gateway to that sainthood, that heavenly bliss, that is ours if we are judged to be holy, to be virtuous, to be just. Those ghouls and ghosts and even the silliest and naffest of costumes must be for us Christians, who should live in the world as though we are on the threshold of heaven, a reminder to press on, to seek the face of God, to strive after virtue so that we too might be numbered among that great sea of witnesses on November 1st each year and not be consigned to ghoulish misery.

So as you bob for apples and light your sparklers, don’t forget that it is to the joys of heaven we aspire more than anything else.