Easter vs. Halloween

Well, I haven’t posted to this blog in a long time.  But now that Easter has come, I am going to get back into the routine of regular posts.

One might say that I gave up blogging for Lent.  There are, however, two small problems with this:  1) it is not true   2) blogging is not the sort of thing I would need to give up for Lent.

The reality is that I have had a rather rugged semester, in terms of demands upon my time, energy and commitments.  Something had to go.

But the aftermath of Easter seems like a good time to try to bring the blog back to life.

The aftermath of Easter seems like a good time to do this because I’ve been wondering about how Easter works in our holiday culture.  This hit me again after we drove out to visit my daughter in Boston over the Easter holidays.  This year Easter fell on the same weekend as Patriots Day, so Boston was all abuzz with the Boston Marathon and the Red Sox game and the anniversary of last year’s bombing.

Easter vigil with the Anglicans:  candles!

Easter vigil with the Anglicans: candles!

That was all well and good, but my daughter attends an Anglican Church, and the Anglicans were all abuzz with worship services:  a Good Friday service, an Easter vigil on Saturday night and an Easter morning worship on Sunday.  (We didn’t get there in time for the Maundy Thursday service).  High church Anglicans don’t skimp on these things:  communion each night, lots of singing, Bible readings, candles, bells, incense, sermons, responsive readings, etc. etc.  The three services added up to more than six hours worth of worship, which would make me seem super-spiritual except that I just had to let you all know that I was in church for six hours, so my worship-bragging negates any spiritual reward I get.

Actually, I was deeply moved and blessed by these services.

A lot of people don’t know what goes on inside different churches during Easter, even though Easter has a rather public presence.  And so, I began to think about how Easter compares to other holidays in the public imagination.  For instance, I had the impression in recent years that Halloween is gaining in interest among most Americans.

A little research indicates that our spending habits bear this out.  According to the National Retail Federation, Americans spent about $16 billion on Easter this year, (mostly on the Easter meal, clothes, candy and gifts).  Meanwhile, we spent $7 billion on Halloween last year.  That’s  a little more than half of the Easter spending, which shows that — at least in monetary terms — Easter remains a bigger holiday.  But here is the kicker: that $7 billion on Halloween is up from  $3.3. billion 2005, which means that if trends continue, we will spend more on Halloween than Easter a few years from now.  (Christmas, of course, completely blows all holidays out of the water when it comes to spending:  $438 billion).

The economics of the thing supports my suspicions. Those of you who are close to my age probably remember that several decades ago Halloween was a low-budget event for kids.  When I was nine my parents spent a few bucks on red paint and white cardboard so I could make myself into a rocket costume.  (I usually dressed up as inanimate objects, probably for complicated psychological reasons that I still have not figured out.)  They then bought some cheap candy for trick-or-treaters.

Aren't we grateful that God has blessed us with so much prosperity that we can....put giant purple spiders in our yard?

Aren’t we grateful that God has blessed us with so much prosperity that we can….put giant purple spiders in our yard?

Think about the billion-dollar Halloween industry today.  Singles spend money by going to parties to get drunk and flirt in sexy costumes.  Major TV networks spend millions on Halloween TV events.  We plop down money for spooky haunted houses and corn mazes.  And what is up with the surge in Halloween lawn decorations?  I don’t know what your community is like, but does your neighborhood sport huge inflatable cats, pumpkins and ghosts in their lawn?  And do they string their houses in orange lights, in imitation of Christmas decorations?  Why do this, I ask myself?

It all makes me wonder why Americans are increasingly fixated on Halloween.

Maybe because it is a chance to revel in self-indulgence, romance, sexuality, and morbidity.  Maybe it is because, lacking any strong sense of regular worship, many Americans are trying to find meaning and contentment in annual festivities.  Maybe Halloween revelers are acting on religious impulses, but because these impulses are devoid of any specific theological content, they get diverted off into these other directions.  Or maybe, we subconsciously just have to bring the topic of death up in a non-threatening and non-serious way, because our culture avoids facing death everywhere else.  Or maybe it is just that we simply want an excuse to have fun — though given all of the other ways we have fun all throughout the year, I think there is more to Halloween’s fascination than that.

Halloween increasingly strikes me as about as fully pagan of a holiday that we have (“pagan” in the older meaning of the word, which refers to pantheistic, nature-worshipping religions, not the more recent meaning which is intended as an insult.)  If so, the rise of Halloween could be seen as another example that we live in a post-Christian culture.

The morbidity of Halloween bothers me a bit, but as I think about it, my concern on that point fades.  In the end, I am more concerned about the ways that consumerism has captured our hearts and souls than I am with how Halloween has captured it.

In other words, I don’t want Easter spending to grow.  I’d rather Easter be celebrated in churches than in shopping malls.  I’d rather the theology of Easter be worked out by pastors than by TV writers.  I’d rather we walked through the patterns and liturgies of Lent and Easter with the biblical story in mind than through the patterns and liturgies of haunted houses with nominally entertaining stories in mind.  Or to compare it to another holiday, I’m thankful that the Easter bunny just can’t compete with Santa Claus, who has co-opted Christmas in so many ways.

So I guess I’m also OK with all the money and media glitz being thrown at Halloween, if it means that it won’t be thrown at Easter.  It’s easy enough to get distracted in our holiday culture as it is.