Life Was So Much Easier 40 Years Ago:
In the 1970's, in the small Midwestern village where I grew up, Halloween was eagerly anticipated by children of all ages and every Christian denomination (with the exception, of course, of the very small population of Jehovah's Witnesses). In those days before the end of Daylight Savings Time was moved to the first Sunday in November, Halloween always took place after we had set our clocks back, which meant that it was good and dark by the time trick or treating began. Jack-o'-lanterns decorated every stoop, and every porch was an oasis of warm light in the chill night air. The sounds of laughter and cries of "Trick or Treat!" filled that air, as little ghosts and goblins ran from house to house, their empty pillowcases slowly filling with candy bars and popcorn balls and fruit.
No one thought that Halloween was the "Devil's Night"; in fact, in the Michigan of my youth, Devil's Night had a very specific meaning: It referred to the mayhem that took place in the inner city of Detroit every October 30, culminating, in the mid-1980's, in hundreds of acts of arson every year. But in the overwhelmingly Christian West Michigan of my youth, a few smashed pumpkins, a handful of tossed eggs, a couple of soaped windows, and some rolls of toilet paper draped over trees were the most devilish activities that occurred on Halloween.
And the very next evening, November 1, the 20-odd Catholic children on my block would all be found in Saint Mary's Church, celebrating the Holy Day of Obligation known as All Saints Day, from which Halloween ("All Hallows Eve") derived its very existence and its name.
All of that began to change around 1980.
Enter Jack Chick:
I was in junior high school the year that I returned from home from trick-or-treating to find, hidden among the Butterfingers (my favorite) and Skittles (a candy I could do without), a little comic book that patiently explained why Catholics were not Christians. It was my first Jack Chick tract, but it would be far from my last.
Jack Chick is a fundamentalist Christian who first began publishing his little tracts in comic-book form in 1960. (For an exhaustive examination of Chick's background and his influence, see "The Nightmare World of Jack T. Chick," published by Catholic Answers.) Each tract tells a little story of a soul gone bad, often without even knowing that he has; he discovers his error over the course of the story, and on the final page, the reader is given the opportunity to "invite Jesus into your life to become your personal Saviour." He is then admonished to read the King James Bible every day, pray, be baptized and to worship with fellow Christians, and to "Tell others about Jesus Christ." One of the best ways to do that, of course, is to purchase more Jack Chick tracts like the one that has brought the gift of faith to the unbeliever, and to hand them out at every possible opportunity—including in lieu of candy on Halloween.
By 1980, Chick had published 45 tracts, and was fairly well known in fundamentalist circles, but not so much outside of them. That changed when he added a new topic into the mix: anti-Catholicism. His first anti-Catholic tract, My Name? . . . In the Vatican? (1980), made the absurd claim that the Catholic Church has a supercomputer that holds the names of all members of every Protestant church in the world, in order to make it easier to track them down and round them up in a future persecution of true Christians by the Catholic Church, which is headed up by the Antichrist, in the form of the pope. (Not all of the tracts that Chick has published remain in print, but Chick's website, www.chick.com, claims that any out-of-print title can be reprinted by special order. My Name? . . . In the Vatican?, however, is no longer offered even in the out-of-print titles.)
In the first half of the 1980's, Chick stepped up his attacks on Catholicism in such tracts as Are Roman Catholics Christians? (1981), Kiss the Protestants Good-bye (1981), Macho (1982), Is There Another Christ? (1983), The Poor Pope? (1983), Holocaust (1984), The Only Hope (1985), The Story Teller (1985), and The Attack (1985). Among other things, these tracts claim that the Catholic Church has tried to convince Protestants that Catholics are Christians, in order to Catholicize the Protestant churches; that communism, Masonry, and Islam were all created by the Catholic Church to attack and undermine true Christianity; and that Hitler was a good Catholic, who carried out the holocaust against the Jews on orders from the Vatican.
Only Nimrods Celebrate Halloween:
Mixed in with all of this is an unhealthy dose of ideas drawn from a pamphlet published in 1853 (and later expanded to book length) by the Rev. Alexander Hislop, a minister of the Free Church of Scotland. The Two Babylons: Or The Papal Worship Proved to be the Worship of Nimrod and His Wife argues that Roman Catholicism is actually a form of paganism—specifically, a Babylonian mystery cult. According to Hislop, the Christ that Catholics worship is not the same as the Christ other Christians worship, but the reincarnated Nimrod, founder of Babylon, and the Virgin Mary whom Catholic venerate is really the Babylonian deity Semiramis, worshiped in Egypt as Isis, in Greece as Athena, and in Rome as Venus and Diana. True Christianity, according to Hislop, was subverted by pagan worship during the reign of Constantine the Great, and did not reemerge again until the late Middle Ages, and was not fully restored until the Protestant Reformation.
In a similar vein, Hislop argued that the Catholic veneration of the saints, particularly on All Saints Day, and the Catholic doctrine of Purgatory (emphasized strongly in the month of November, beginning on November 2, All Souls Day), is a modified form of Babylonian worship of the dead.
Given Chick's reliance on The Two Babylons, it should have come as no surprise when, in 1986, his series of anti-Catholic tracts culminated in his first attack on Halloween, in his 1986 tract The Trick.
Witchcraft, Human Sacrifice, Poisoned Candy, and Spells:
By the mid-1980's, many parents had become concerned for the safety of their children on Halloween. The rise of the subgenre of horror movies known as "slasher films," such as the Halloween and Friday the 13th franchises, combined with stories of serial killers such as Chicago's "Killer Clown," John Wayne Gacy, in the popular imagination. Scattered reports of candy laced with drugs or poison, and caramel apples embedded with shards of glass, never very widespread and entirely debunked by 2002 (see Is Halloween Candy Tampering a Myth?), led parents to inspect the goodies that the neighbors they saw every day had given to their children on Halloween night.
The Trick capitalized on this unease to advance Chick's attack on Halloween. A coven of witches is shown tampering with Halloween candy and performing incantations over it, leading, on Halloween, to the death of children and frightening changes in the behavior of others. Even though the children have been warned by their parents only to visit the houses of people they know, one of those kindly neighbors turns out to be a witch, proving that there is no way to ensure the physical and spiritual safety of any child who celebrates Halloween. Only when an ex-witch exposes Halloween as a "holy day" created by Satan to allow a worldwide conspiracy of witches to "provide additional sacrifices to him" is the kindly but evil neighbor's plot foiled, as the parents of the affected children accept Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior and then convince their children to do so also.
The Druids Are Coming!:
The worldwide conspiracy, however, is nothing new; according to Chick, who, in The Trick, cites Hislop's Two Babylons as his source, Halloween was first celebrated by the Druids, who offered children as human sacrifices on Halloween night:
When [a Druid] went to a home and demanded a child or virgin for sacrifice, the victim was the Druid's treat. In exchange, they would leave a jack-o-lantern with a lighted candle made of human fat to prevent those inside from being killed by demons that night. When some unfortunate couldn't meet the demands of the Druids, then it was time for the trick. A symbolic hex was drawn on the front door. That night Satan or his demons would kill someone in that home.
In other Chick tracts, similar accounts of Druidic celebration of Halloween are offered, and the jack-o'-lantern is specifically identified as a carved pumpkin.
Of course, as I've shown in Should Catholics Celebrate Halloween?, Halloween—that is, the vigil or eve of All Hallows or All Saints Day, was first celebrated in the eighth century A.D., approximately 400 years after the Celts had abandoned druidism for Christianity. And the pumpkin, which is native to North American, was not imported to the British Isles until over a millennium after the conversion of the Celts to Christianity. Indeed, as David Emery, the About.com Guide to Urban Legends points out in Why Do We Carve Pumpkins on Halloween?, both the name and the custom of the jack-o'-lantern date from the 17th century, and it was commonly associated with Catholic beliefs and practices:
For Catholic children it was customary to carry jack-o'-lanterns door-to-door to represent the souls of the dead while begging for soul cakes on Hallowmas (All Saints Day, Nov. 1) and All Souls Day (Nov. 2).
Irish Catholic immigrants to North America celebrated Halloween by carving pumpkins and trick-or-treating, and, just as their Puritan ancestors had in England, Protestants of English descent in the American Northeast banned the celebration of Halloween (and of Christmas) not out of concerns over witchcraft and the "Devil's Night," but explicitly in opposition to Catholic practice. By the late 19th century, those bans had been dropped, and both Halloween and Christmas had been adopted by Protestant Christians of all stripes in the United States, but by the late 1980's Jack Chick had succeeded in reviving the earlier anti-Catholic attack on Halloween.
Happy Birthday, Satan:
Chick's anti-Halloween tracts helped spread another idea that is ridiculous on its face: that Halloween is Satan's birthday. Satan, of course, is Lucifer, the leader of the angels who rebelled against God and was cast out of Heaven by Saint Michael the Archangel and the other angels who remained loyal to their Creator (Revelation 12:7-10). As such, he has no "birthday"—a fact that Chick actually admits in one of his tracts, though he attributes the casting of Lucifer and his demons out of Heaven to Jesus Christ, not Saint Michael, as the account in Revelation does. Yet that same tract, Boo! (1991), while getting the story at least partially right, shows Satan, wearing a jack-o'-lantern as a head, rejoicing that a bunch of high-school students are "coming to celebrate my birthday," before he mows 19 of them down with a chainsaw. The sheriff who is unable to stop Satan's bloody rampage finally gives up, praying, "May the saints preserve 'em"—a subtle yet potent anti-Catholic reference.
The Triumph of Chick's Anti-Catholic War on Halloween:
By the turn of the millennium, Jack Chick had made great strides in his attack on Halloween, and not just among his fellow fundamentalist Christians. Many mainstream Christians, including a sizable number of Catholics who had themselves happily and innocently celebrated Halloween when they were young, decided not to let their children take part in trick-or-treating and other Halloween festivities. The common reasons given came straight out of the Jack Chick tracts that many of them had received in their own youth: the supposed Celtic and Babylonian pagan roots of Halloween; the ridiculous claim that Halloween is Satan's birthday; the possible dangers to the physical and spiritual health of their children, if they are allowed to accept candy from the neighbors that they see everyday.
Various Christian churches came up with "alternatives" to Halloween, such as harvest parties (which, as I've discussed in Should Catholics Celebrate Halloween?, actually have more in common with Celtic pagan practices than Halloween ever did) and All Saints Day parties. But underlying all of these is the big lie that Jack Chick has successfully propagated: that there's something wrong or anti-Christian about Halloween, and therefore an alternative is needed.
By 2001, Chick himself had become something of a victim to his success. Halloween had been a very good time of year for Chick Publications, as fundamentalists purchased Chick tracts to distribute to unsuspecting children. But as Chick managed to convince more and more Christians that Halloween was evil, those who used to pass out Chick tracts quit doing so, and simply kept their porch lights dark on the "Devil's Night."
So, in recent years, Chick has changed tactics, announcing in a Halloween Letter on his website that Christians should not shun Halloween, but "Turn Halloween into a night of evangelism," as it was back in the early 80's, when I received my first Chick tract on Halloween night. More recent Halloween tracts from Chick Publications, such as The Little Ghost (2001) and First Bite (2008) have dropped scare tactics in favor of humorous stories.
Is Halloween Evil? Consider the Source:
Yet the damage has been done, and a whole new generation of Christians, including many Catholics, have been indoctrinated in lies about Halloween spread by a man who believes that Catholics aren't Christians; that Catholics worship Babylonian deities, and not Jesus Christ; and that the Catholic Church created Islam, communism, and Masonry to subvert true Christianity, and raised up Hitler to commit genocide against the Jews.
Catholic children do not need to celebrate Halloween to be good Catholics, though they should understand the true origins of Halloween as the vigil of All Saints Day. But if you're contemplating keeping your children at home on Halloween while others are enjoying a night of innocent fun because you've been told that Halloween is the "Devil's Night," I can offer only this advice: Consider the source.