I remember growing up looking forward to candy at the end of October. I didn’t much care how I got it; there seemed to be two options. One was to dress up in a costume and collect candy from people who were giving it away. The other was to go to a church without dressing up to play games and get a bag of candy at the end. I enjoyed the first of these childhood experiences so much that embarrassingly enough, a group of friends and I decided it would be a fantastic idea to go Trick-Or-Treating while in university. We came back with big bags of candy, but a clear sense that the good times were over… we got more than one raised eyebrow and at one house, we rather shamefacedly accepted our candy from a little girl who must have been six or seven years old.
What I didn’t always realize when I was a youngster was that many Christians think that celebrating Halloween is wrong. The ‘Trick or Treating’ that I did some years would have been frowned on by many Christians. Those church parties I went to when I was little were designed to keep me away from what some view as a rather sinister holiday. Many Christian schools and youth groups ‘ban’ Halloween. So, when did it actually begin, and what is it now?
In the early Medieval Church, and today, there is a feast on November 1st called ‘All Saints’ Day’ or ‘All Hallows‘ Day.’ This was to celebrate all the saints, known and unknown, who have gone before us in faith. It was considered an important feast day, important enough to have a vigil the evening before… a ‘Hallows’ eve’ if you will. This is where our Halloween came from. Because this feast is immediately followed by ‘All Souls’ Day,’ a feast that commemorates all who have died, many traditions that developed for Halloween reflect both ‘All Saints’ Day’ and ‘All Souls’ Day.’ Thus, Halloween was a celebration of God’s work in the lives of the saints and a prayerful concern for those who needed yet to become saints
Now, of course, it has been adopted and changed by secular culture and by some post-Reformation disagreement over ideas like purgatory and prayers for the dead. Many Catholic traditions attached to this holiday are not appropriate for Protestants. ‘Secular’ traditions like costumes, Jack o’lanterns and so on have uncertain (possibly pre-Christian pagan) origins, but today at least are devoid of Christian significance and sometimes reflect evil influences. It would be easiest to avoid having anything to do with the holiday.
But it isn’t enough to avoid the holiday; one must have a better holiday. Faith isn’t about becoming a killjoy; children should not associate faith with no costumes or candy at Halloween anymore than they should think presents on Christmas is inappropriate. The first Christians had to claim all sorts of holidays, to abjure pagan celebrations but also to celebrate the Gospel. Christians can reclaim Halloween, make it Christo-centric (as it was once) and use it to celebrate the power and glory of God. Dress up as a wholesome, fun character or better yet someone who served God with their life. Remember the heroes of the faith who came before. If you are able, visit the graves of your relatives. Talk with your kids about what Christians believe about death and some of the things people dress up as. Pray for all souls to find salvation in Jesus Christ. Share gifts, not tricks. Make it a holy day!
“For All The Saints”
For all the saints, who from their labours rest,
Who Thee by faith before the world confessed,
Thy Name, O Jesus, be forever blessed.
Thou wast their Rock, their Fortress and their Might;
Thou, Lord, their Captain in the well fought fight;
Thou, in the darkness drear, their one true Light.
For the Apostles’ glorious company,
Who bearing forth the Cross o’er land and sea,
Shook all the mighty world, we sing to Thee:
For the Evangelists, by whose blest word,
Like fourfold streams, the garden of the Lord,
Is fair and fruitful, be Thy Name adored.
For Martyrs, who with rapture kindled eye,
Saw the bright crown descending from the sky,
And seeing, grasped it, Thee we glorify.
From earth’s wide bounds, from ocean’s farthest coast,
Through gates of pearl streams in the countless host,
Singing to Father, Son and Holy Ghost:
(Verses 1-3, 5, 6, 11. Anglican hymn, from Wikipedia.)