It took me years, but I think I have finally figured out the confusion surrounding that most controversial of holidays: Halloween. But before I divulge the secret history of Halloween, I would like to share my personal journey.
As soon as I gave my life to Christ, I instinctively assumed that Halloween was a pagan holiday which Christians should have nothing to do with. Desiring to be agents of redemption rather than protest, my wife and I decided to host harvest parties for our children and friends. We would have hayrides, dunking for apples, rope games, and all kinds of fun. One year we even had everyone dress up as historical figures.
But as our children grew older, our zeal to provide a substitute for Halloween faded. Some years we even found ourselves hiding from our neighbors on October 31st!
We would leave candy in a bowl outside our door and simply let the kids help themselves. Every few years, I would get convicted and give the trick-or-treaters some candy along with a Lamplighter book or audio drama in order to relieve my conscience!
Ever since coming to Christ at the age of 22, I had always hated Halloween and what it represented… always, that is, until recently. I heard a message that prompted me to do some research, and you can imagine my surprise when I learned that Halloween was originally a Christian holiday celebrated the evening before All Saints Day (November 1). On these days, Christians honored the heroes of the faith, including those who had been martyred for their beliefs. This observance was practiced in the early church, and by the 7th century, it was a global church practice. As time went on, Irish Christians introduced the practice of dressing up in costumes to act out the spiritual warfare of good overcoming evil.
To make matters even more complicated, the day after All Saints Day was yet another holiday known as All Souls Day! Now that’s just confusing, so let me try to clarify things a little. People originally celebrated Halloween, also called Hallow E’en, on the evening before All Saints Day, much like we celebrate Christmas Eve on December 24. The real confusion came when the Catholic Church instituted the celebration of All Souls Day on November 2.
All Souls Day was a holiday set aside to pray for the dead to help them get out of Purgatory more quickly. This holiday brought with it many unethical practices designed to extort money from the naïve, playing on their emotions concerning their departed loved ones. This led to the lighting of candles over graves--where we get the jack-o-lantern--and paying for the lighting of candles in churches. Graveyards were filled with lighted candles on November 2, as the tradition was supposed to ward off evil. Thus the tradition eventually encompassed the wearing of skeleton, devil, and hero costumes inspired by the original dress-up for All Saints Day.
Still confused? Let me sum things up for you. Traditionally, All Saints Day and the evening before (Hallow E‘en) were solid Christian celebrations, held in honor of faithful believers who had given their lives for Christ. The Catholic Church added All Souls Day in remembrance of those who did not have good clean Christian track records and needed some helpful prayers as they languished in Purgatory, waiting for their release. Interestingly, this concept of praying for the dead came from one of the Apocryphal books, known as the book of Maccabees.
Now that you know the history behind Halloween, the question remains: how should Christians celebrate it? Clearly, the modern practice of Halloween has drawn heavily from pagan influences so that it now bears hardly any resemblance to its Christian origins. However, is there an alternative?
I submit to you that there is!
Over the past few decades, I have noticed that Christians are tending to avoid conflict and seem to have a-bury-my-head-in-the-sand attitude. Battling the forces of darkness takes grit, perseverance, godliness, and faith. We need to redeem what the enemy has taken from us. We need to reclaim what was once ours. No, I’m not fighting for any claims on Halloween. But I would like to inspire us to fight for the souls of our neighbors.
Halloween is a perfect opportunity to get to know the people around you. So go and meet your neighbors. Be creative. Give a gift and let them know that it’s no trick. Most people don’t know all of their neighbors. Perhaps you could use this day as an opportunity to introduce yourself and invite them to your house in the future. Remember that the end goal is to reach your neighbors for Christ and fulfill the royal law of loving your neighbor as yourself.
It’s time to start redeeming the years that the locusts have eaten. It’s time to start shining some light in the darkness… and how great a light we possess!