October 28, 2005

Cornucopia / Cynthia Dewes

What’s going on with holidays?

Where the “H” has Halloween gone? I ask you. And I’m not talking about the “H” in “Hallows” here, either. I’m talking about witches and goblins and ghosts and all those supernatural things we used to enjoy being scared by every year on Oct. 31.

Purists have almost eliminated the deliciously terrifying parts of the holiday in deference to those who fear Satanic influences. They also correctly want to emphasize All Saints Day rather than its scary vigil. While I’m not so sure that children are as spooked by these things as concerned adults are, I understand that such pagan depictions may be undesirable.

On the other hand, our Church does believe in the existence of hell, which means the total absence of God. But to some people, hell is not a reality. They think we’ll all go to a nice, safe heaven because a good God surely wouldn’t allow hell to exist, and even if it did, God wouldn’t want us to go to such a place. In fact, God forbid!

But Halloween is just one example of change. It seems that it’s becoming harder and harder to celebrate some of the holidays the way we used to. Not only because the “holi” part has long been missing, but also because the reasons for celebrating some of them are suspect.

Take Columbus, the leading contender for Major Holiday Chump. That’s because his achievement in “discovering America” has been swallowed into a generic “Explorers’ Day” celebration. Explorers Day? What is that? Do we really want to include guys like Cortez in honoring heroes?

And, who remembers that Veterans Day used to be called Armistice Day? Sadly, the powers that be realized that we’ve had so many wars, one historic armistice is not as worthy of attention as the veterans of those numerous events. Similarly, with the passing of time, Memorial Day has lost its original purpose. What began as a celebration in honor of those who fought in the Civil War has become a generic memorial for all American war dead.

Labor Day is another example. The celebration of that holiday pales in comparison to the raucous workers’ parades and fiery speeches that used to mark the event. And who even remembers special days like Flag Day or Arbor Day or the seemingly continual Church feasts that used to afford Catholic schoolchildren a day off from school?

Now, Thanksgiving was always a family gathering and thankfully, it still is. It’s just that family has come to mean yours, mine, theirs and ours. And forget about “Over the river and through the woods, to Grandmother’s house we go”! Grandmother’s probably off gambling in Las Vegas with her third husband or living in a condo somewhere in the city.

Well, times change. But, one holiday remains a “holi-day” in our hearts and minds: Christmas. No matter how hard our culture tries to secularize that day, Christmas remains a Mass in celebration of the spiritual gift given to us by God.

It says so right in its name, “Christ-mas.” We should keep that in mind when we hear “Happy Holidays” presented as a substitute for “Merry Christmas.” After all, we’re still calling them “holi-days,” secular or not!

(Cynthia Dewes, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)


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