As a child, I loved Halloween and looked forward to dressing up and going trick-or-treating. Recently, my son shared with me that he does not like Halloween. When I asked him why, he stated that he is very scared by the costumes, particularly those that make people look like they are dead or zombies.
As I was perusing the costume aisles at a local store recently, I realized that, far from the superhero costumes or semi-scary costumes of my childhood, the shelves were now full of costumes of flesh eating zombies, creepy clowns and death masks. Doesn’t it seem that Halloween has become more macabre every year with more realistic costumes and makeup? What once was creepy now seems to have taken a turn toward the downright disturbing. Gory images of death, violence and mutilation are the norm rather than the exception. How can Christians make sense of these trends in the light of faith?
The genre of fantasy movies of a post-apocalyptic world have been increasing in popularity over the years. Hollywood has capitalized on the enormous earning potential of Halloween with year round programming featuring fantasy characters including werewolves, vampires and zombies. I recently had a conversation with a friend who watches these shows and as we talked, I couldn’t help being struck by the parallels between spiritual death and physical death.
Zombies are portrayed as those who are physically dead but are brought back to life. They do not seem to exhibit consciousness of their souls and so prey on the souls of others. Interestingly, in Scripture we find some interesting descriptions of people who appear zombie-like with only a tenuous grasp on the outer world and with no sense of their humanity or their soul. Consider the words of St. Paul in the following Scriptures: “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead and Christ will give you light” (Eph 5:13). “It is the hour now for you to wake from sleep. For our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed” (Rom 13:11).
What is this sleep that St. Paul refers to? It is a sleep whereby we move through life wide awake to the world around us, the external, but are asleep on the inside. Perhaps as a society we have become so preoccupied with the lives of others — being busy, tethered to our calendars and wallets that many of us seem to be sleep-walking through life. We are awake to the latest celebrity gossip and fashion trends, which are all transitory, and forget about what is most important: our relationship with God. As society continually emphasizes the external, our interior life begins to haunt us. We have trouble sleeping, living in the present moment and taking notice of the many ways that God speaks to us.
I am not saying that we cannot enjoy some healthy escapism and fantasy, but if costuming at Halloween has come this far, we have to ask ourselves how far will it go from here? Many people see apocalyptic television as harmless entertainment. Others fear that this is a harbinger of the future. As Christians, we can approach Halloween as with any other time of the year with confidence and trust, for we know that Jesus Christ has overcome the world. We are told that God, “having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross” (Col 2:15). So Christians, let’s “wake up” from our sleep and arise to a world where the light of the cross has overcome darkness!
Stanz is director of the diocesan Department of New Evangelization.