“Ask a Priest: Is a Non-Religious Party Near Christmas OK?”

Q: I am a tutor at an underprivileged middle school for my work/study job at college. All the tutors have to throw a “Holiday Party” in December for the kids and make decorations for it. But since the kids are from public school, we cannot have any Catholic or religious decorations. Is it a sin for me to help throw this party since I am Catholic and believe the true meaning of Christmas is about Christ’s birth? Also, is it a sin for me to help make secular decorations for the party? My second question is: We are also throwing a Halloween party for the kids where they come and trick or treat at the dorms. Some of the decorations are like zombies and other spooky-type things. They aren’t gory or scary to look at, but I am just not a big fan of all the strange things that go along with Halloween. Is it wrong for me to help throw this party and decorate for it as well? The main focus isn’t on the decorations — it’s on them coming to trick or treat and get some goodies. I really am more worried about the party in December. Thanks for your help! – M.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: I think you could participate in both events.

The first event, the Holiday Party, doesn’t sound like anything inherently sinful, notwithstanding its secular nature. If the theme of the party is explicitly to pooh-pooh the religious connection with Christmas, then that would be a different case.

The Holiday Party is probably a lowest-common-denominator event that is designed not to make anyone feel excluded (such as non-believing or non-Christian students). It is not the kind of event, however, that would be appropriate in, say, a parish or Catholic school.

As for the Halloween party, I don’t see an immediate problem, either. Some people might disagree and say that anything that smacks of zombies, etc., is pagan and should be excluded totally. But I’m not sure that that view needs to be embraced.

Nevertheless, this might be a good moment to step back and consider what path you want to take as a career.

These parties are a taste of the secularism that is all around us. If you choose the path of working in public schools, you will likely face much more serious issues in this regard.

Now is the time to ask yourself whether you want to face that prospect. Or whether you would want to dedicate yourself to institutions that are decidedly Catholic.

Both paths can be paths that offer you a chance to fulfill your Christian mission in this world and help many people, but they will have different challenges. You might want to prayerfully discern this question and ask the Lord how he wants you to serve him.

Perhaps you are already thinking about these issues. Ideally, whatever you do, you will do for the glory of God.

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