Thursday, October 31, 2019

Orthodoxy and Halloween: Ten Years Later (2009-2019)

By John Sanidopoulos

On October 31, 2009 I wrote a post on that when I woke up that morning I had no intention to write. All that morning I was checking social media and saw over and over again Orthodox Christians, both clergy and laity, posting links and comments warning others of the dangers of Halloween and how anyone who participated in any way in the holiday was in league with the devil. There was hardly a positive thing to say about Halloween. When I read the contents of these links and comments, it was no wonder there was nothing positive to say about Halloween. The information being spread was so ridiculous and false, it was enough for any sane person to pull their hair out in frustration. I thought: "Are my fellow Orthodox Christians really this stupid?" Honestly, I wouldn't expect an illiterate Greek yiayia from a remote village to believe the things I was reading. But knowing this erroneous information was being circulated by clergy helped me understand why they accepted such absurdities. The people look up to the clergy and trust their judgment. So I did some quick research on the internet to see if the clergy were able to do their homework to fact check the information they were spreading. It was then that I realized there was a big problem that needed to be addressed. Almost everything I read on the internet about Halloween was false. Not only was it false, but it was often in the realm of insane.

Like most American children, I loved Halloween as a child. Maybe I loved it more than the average American child. In the seventh grade my goal was to get perfect grades in all my classes. It was my nerdiest year ever. I messed up on one of my Social Studies tests and got a B+. After class I approached my teacher and asked for some extra credit work to bring that grade up to an A. Since it was a week before Halloween, he suggested that I write a two to three page paper on the history of Halloween. Since I loved Halloween, I was actually pretty excited to do the research and write the paper. Studying the history of Halloween began for me in the seventh grade, and it never ended. Over the years I read dozens of things not only about Halloween, but about every holiday. Whatever I could get my hands on, I read it. I even got into the original source materials. By the time October 31, 2009 came, you could have considered me somewhat of an expert on Halloween. So much so, that I had to stop reading about Halloween, because almost everything I was reading about it was hopelessly ignorant.

Whenever possible, I would always take Halloween off from work. For me it was a day to watch Halloween specials and horror movies, and eat lots of junk, then in the evening to walk around Salem and people watch. But not on October 31, 2009. That afternoon, knowing that I only had a few hours to write a clarification and refutation of all the falsehoods about Halloween, I sat down at my computer and began to write. I just wrote the first things that came to my mind based on what I was reading on social media that day. I really had no time to prepare for it. My thoughts were with the poor Orthodox children of America who would be forced to stay home for Halloween, because fellow Orthodox on social media were telling their parents that they were committing a grave sin if they took their children out that night for trick-or-treating. Within an hour or so, I wrote a piece titled Orthodoxy and Halloween: Separating Fact From Fiction. It was pretty long, didn't address everything, but immediately it started going viral. Within a few hours, there were over a hundred comments and about 5,000 views (I call this "Orthodox viral"). Half were surprisingly positive, and half were unsurprisingly negative. As far as I knew, this was the only article at the time on the internet giving factual information about Halloween, and it shocked many.

Who knew that by writing something positive and true about Halloween, I would bring out the monsters among my fellow Orthodox seeking to devour. The hate mail I got that day has never been equaled. I was accused of being a Zionist trying to bring down the Orthodox Church, a member of the Church of Satan trying to re-crucify Christ, of being guilty by default for supporting pagans who literally cannibalized on children every Halloween, and so on and so forth. My personal favorite name that day was someone who was calling me Anton LaVeyopoulos. It was all pretty humorous and sad at the same time.

Now we find ourselves here ten years later: October 31, 2019. Since that time I have expanded on my posts about Halloween, which can be read on my Halloween Resource Page and on my website Eventually I'm hoping to bring everything together in a book. The reception to my work has been more positive than I hoped. These days on social media, instead of 95% of Orthodox decrying Halloween like in 2009, today I would say it is about 30% to 40%. Many are quiet about it now because they are either confused or at least accepting. Especially surprising is the amount of Catholics and Protestants who have been influenced by my work to write factual things about Halloween and let go of all the falsehoods and myths. In fact, it has come to the point that I have become forgotten as a source for this dramatic turnaround, which is fine by me. These days, it has become a refrain to say "Halloween is neither Pagan or Satanic," to the point that many are tired of hearing it, even though they accept it. Truth is winning, though not totally.

Over the past ten years, there has scarcely been a year when I did not receive some hate mail from people who have just discovered my writings on Halloween. Some go on and on for pages, mainly making disparaging remarks about me. I don't even read them anymore. They seem to feel personally insulted by me exposing the falsehoods of what they believe. No one has ever attempted to refute any of my arguments with any substance. At most they just repeat the ridiculousness of fundamentalist literature that I have already addressed. Some of my donors who really love my ministry have been forced by their priests to stop supporting it because of my stance on Halloween. On some occasions I will hear how someone really loves my work, except for my work on Halloween...this is anathema. Most of the negativity comes from Orthodox outside the United States. Outside of the United States, Orthodox clergy view Halloween as the epitome of everything that is evil and wrong with the world. They hate it just as much if not more so than the United States itself. Though I will say, outside of its historic association as a Catholic feast day, Halloween is a cultural holiday born in the United States and Canada, and really doesn't work anywhere outside the United States and Canada.

Though there is a lot more that needs to be done on the subject of Halloween itself, my main purpose over the past ten years was not necessarily to redeem the holiday. It really has no need of redemption. It is what it is. Personally, I could care less if anyone celebrates it, let alone if Orthodox celebrate it. Halloween is not for everyone, just like Thanksgiving and Christmas is not for everyone. Halloween really has nothing to do with Orthodoxy. It can if you want it to, but it is not anything necessary. It's just a cultural holiday like Independence Day on July 4th and Thanksgiving in November. I love those holidays too. Most Orthodox around the world know nothing about Halloween. In fact, my main purpose over the past ten years was to see how willing Orthodox are to being educated and to think outside their ideological box. Halloween was my test case for this experiment. Unfortunately many Orthodox are not that willing, though many are, and that's refreshing. Ten years ago I sent shock waves throughout the internet with one fact-based post. Going forward my intention is to shift focus more and present deeper studies on similar subjects of which I have barely touched the surface.