It’s hard to understand what happens in American life, and when it happens, without understanding what I like to call the “liturgical calendar of the shopping mall.”
The best example? That would be the locked-solid fact that the cultural steamroller called “Christmas” now begins somewhere around the start of the National Football League schedule and it kicks into high gear with Black Friday after Thanksgiving. Forget that whole holy season called Christmas, as in the 12 days after Dec. 25.
Oh, and when is Thanksgiving? That was a question for the U.S. Congress and the Chamber of Commerce, as well.
Some people would argue that “The Holidays” — at the level of candy, music and decorations — now start after Halloween. And when is Halloween? At the moment, Halloween is on October 31. Why is that?
That question brings us to an interesting, and rather hollow, CNN story with this headline: “A petition to move Halloween to the last Saturday of October nears 100,000 signatures.” Here is the overture:
There are lots of reasons to hate holidays: traffic, awkward family reunions, expensive gifts that would wring a tear from anyone's wallet. But if there's one celebration absent from all of this holiday drama, it's Halloween.
It's too bad that, more times than not, the sugar-laden holiday is set right in the middle of the week, when would-be revelers have to get to bed early.
But there's a petition aiming to change that. … It’s lobbying to bump Halloween from October 31 to the last Saturday of the month.
The petition, launched last year by the nonprofit Halloween & Costume Association, argues that moving the date of Halloween will lead to a "safer, longer, stress-free celebration."
Wait a minute. A “safer, longer, stress-free celebration” of WHAT, precisely? What is Halloween and why is it observed on October 31?
That brings readers to the historical snippet in the CNN report. Read this carefully.
The roots of Halloween are a lot deeper than Party City commercials might have you believe. Halloween, an abbreviation for All Hallows' Eve, originated as a pagan festival celebrated by the Celts thousands of years ago.
As a part of Samhain, a celebration of summer's end, people went "souling" -- they'd go from door to door asking for "soul cakes" or food and drink in exchange for a song, dance or prayer. Trick-or-treating got its start there. Now, it's the main way we choose to commemorate October 31.
Now, the name “All Hallows’ Eve” implies that this is the evening before something else. And what would that be, precisely?
A GetReligion reader — one Jeremiah Oehlerich — sent us this CNN link and offered some spot-on commentary. He was not offended, of course, by the reference to Samhain and the Celts. That is certainly part of this complex story, historically speaking.
Referring to the CNN material about the roots of the festival, he added:
While these arguments might explain some of the Halloween customs, they still don’t explain the issue of the date which became fixed on the calendar by the Christian Church with the observation of All Saints Day. Rather than explain how All Hallows Eve cannot be separated from All Hallows (or Saints) Day as Christmas Eve and Christmas Day cannot be separated, the reporter gives us the possible pagan origins of some of the practices associated with the festival.
I get that the “Here’s the pagan things Christianity absorbed” is trendy, but by completely leaving out some basic details (the story) fails to explain to readers why the date would be hard to move.
Wait, there’s a holy day called All Saints’ Day and it’s on November 1? And this holy day used be called All Hallows Day? Why, that would mean that All Hallows’ EVE was the night before….
So who is in charge of the historical facts at CNN? The mall or (in Western Christianity) the Catholic liturgical calendar? Which authority came first?
FIRST IMAGE: Icon for All Hallows’ Day.