Ink & Penwipers

Scribbles, screeds, speculations, and the occasional reference to Schrodinger's cat.

31 October 2004

The Devil's Day: Or, The Uses of Odium

So I heard a week or so ago that some neighborhoods were determined that their kids would dress up and do trick-or-treating on Saturday night rather than tonight, the actual Halloween night, because "we can't have the devil's celebration on the Lord's day."

Now, I'm quite familiar with the position that Halloween is Of The Devil. I've just never bought it. I think, not to put too fine a point on it, that it's bunk.

In my recent love affair with liturgical Christianity, I discovered something radically enthralling about Sunday. It's a feast day, every Sunday of the year: a Feast of Our Lord, equal to nearly every other day of celebration in the calendar. Sundays are not counted in the fasting time of Lent. They are not meant for days of maudlin sobriety. You do not wear black on a feast day. You do not beat your breast, you do not act sad, you do not walk softly, you do not observe a radical decorum. On a feast day, a day actually set aside for joy and laughter and dancing and eating, I for one actually feel more inclined to be grateful and fill my mouth with praises, more inclined even to be reverent: because it is part of "the unforced rhythms of grace," as Peterson's Message puts it.

I do not think this is what is meant by "The Lord's Day" in usual Christian parlance. So when a distinction is drawn between "The Lord's Day" and "the devil's day" there is already a problem about what goodness we are upholding as against the supposed badness of Halloween.

In fact, I think the problem with Halloween is the same problem that occurs with days like Mardi Gras and April Fools and New Year's Eve: the wild indecorum stretched to the point of self-caricature. A secure devout public would not, and has not, quibbled with this self-caricature, seeing it as a healthy way of addressing that aspect of our humanity.

An insecure devout public, on the other hand, feels threatened by even self-caricature of indecorum and insobriety. An insecure devout public, which feels guilt even for its legitimate celebrations, cannot countenance celebration in others. And yet whether the devotion of the Christian public is secure or insecure, God is sovereign. So the quibble about such holidays, such feasts, I submit has very little to do with the Lord at all, and very much to do with how much control some humans feel they deserve to have over other humans' behavior.

Do people sin on Halloween? Sure. They sin every other day of the calendar, too. Is there an emphasis on death? Sure. People die every day, too. Shouldn't we have a day in which we make fun of death and evil? Shouldn't we have a day in which the scariness of these things is caricatured and therefore rendered less scary?

I'm not referring, by the way, to neopagan celebrations of Samhain. In a predominantly Christian society Samhain doesn't really figure, except as it is another variety of behavior that is intolerable to those who want control over the whole populace. The irony is that most of those people don't know anything about Samhain; they think it's about people drinking blood or sacrificing cats to the devil or something, I don't know. I don't know much about Samhain either, but I suspect it is analogous to a feast day, a day celebrating changes in the year, a day of reflection and gratitude and eating and joy -- a day, oh, kind of like the Feast of Our Lord. No, it isn't Christian; but it is fully human, and anything fully human ought to be fully respected as such. Unlike Christians, pagans don't proselytize, they don't go out recruiting followers, so I don't think their presence in our midst is going to do anything but make some Christians wonder why they aren't having the fun they're entitled to on the Lord's Day. That is where the threat of paganism lies -- to the establishment, not to God, who wants us to have feasts.

The devil's day, in my opinion, is not a day in which we make fun of evil and death by dressing up in its clothes. The devil's day is any day we completely waste in self-pity and self-involvement, in quarrelling and sulking and avenging imaginary wrongs. That can happen any day, and it can happen even on days in which we observe all due decorum and lace ourselves tight. In fact, miserly self-denial of this sort is a perfect breeding ground for devil's days.

Am I therefore advocating wholesale laissez-faire? Um, didn't St. Paul have to field this question, like, more than once? Why are we still debating whether it's a good thing to have days set aside for topsy-turviness? It's in the Bible! God likes it! Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. Liberty: which means not being constantly behaviorally beholden to people who think they ought to be the ones calling the shots.

There, I'm glad I got that off my chest. That rant was about fifteen years in the making. I'm here all weekend. Try the candy corn, and be sure to tip your Catwoman-dressed waitress on your way out.


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