This is a touchy time of year for many Christians. And because it’s a touchy time for Christians, it’s automatically a touchy time for Churches. How should Christians act on a holiday I’ve heard referred to as “Satan’s Birthday?” Should we let our kids go “trick-or-treating?” Should we let them dress up in costumes? Should we let them out of the house at all on October 31st? How much cooperation with this holiday does it take before we have compromised our status as “called apart ones?”
Ultimately, how your family chooses to treat this day is your own decision, and should be decided according to Scripture, but also conscience. There were things mentioned by Paul in the New Testament that were okay for a Christian to do, but he pointed out there would always be Christians for whom certain things would continue to feel uncomfortable – their conscience did not allow them some freedoms. If that is you in regards to Halloween, please don’t go against that feeling -- but only you can decide if that applies to you. What follows below, however, is a brief history of the origins of Halloween, and the reasons why The Outpost office will be open tomorrow night when the kids come calling.
Here is a super condensed summary. “Halloween” is the name of the night before an official Church celebration called “All Saints Day” (Celebrated Nov. 1st). All Saint’s Day was a celebration which began about 300 years after the life of Christ, to honor the many Christian martyrs, known and unknown, throughout the years. It later came to include honoring ‘all saints,’ or all believers that the Church viewed as exceptional Christian examples. This celebration was also called ‘All-hallows’ or ‘All-hallowmas’ -- from Middle English ‘Alholowmesse’ meaning “All Saints' Day”. Just like Christmas Eve has become an important night before the actual Christmas day, so the night before “All Hallows Day” became important – and was called ‘All-hallows Eve,’ eventually, ‘Halloween.’
So that’s where the name comes from. What about the costumes, the candy, the carved pumpkins? From all the sources I’ve looked at and studied, the prevailing consensus is that many of the external elements of our modern Halloween holiday have come to us through the Celts, later, the Irish. Apparently they celebrated the end of their year on October 31st (Nov. 1 was their New Years Day) by lighting huge bonfires during a festival called Samhain (pronounced sow-in). On that night “it was believed that the ghosts of the dead returned to earth” (www.history.com) and that they caused trouble and damaged crops while there. Some believe the Celtic priests and druids wore costumes made of dead animals and offered sacrifices during this festival, but there is disagreement on much of the details.
Those are clues about the “what” of Halloween, but what about the “how?” How did these two celebrations get so mixed up together? Some have claimed the Church purposely changed its celebration date of All Saints Day (It did change the date, but for another reason) in order to take away the “devil’s monopoly” of that day. Whatever the reason, the facts show that having both major celebrations so close together started a slow-motion chain-reaction of syncretism. This ‘merging’ of traditions started in Europe and was transplanted in colonial times in the Americas, but it reached critical mass during the large-scale imigrations of Irish to the U.S. in the second half of the nineteenth century. “These new immigrants, especially the millions of Irish fleeing Ireland's potato famine of 1846, helped to popularize the celebration of Halloween nationally”(www.history.com).
'In what ways?,' you may wonder... Take, for instance, the origin of the “trick” in “trick-or treat.” Playing pranks and causing mischief on this night almost certainly comes from the Celtic belief of supernatural spirits roaming the earth on Oct. 31 and spreading trouble. Interestingly however, the “treat” portion of the phrase seems to be repeatedly traced back, once again, to “All Saints Day,” when children and the poor would go “souling” from house to house, singing songs and praying for the dead. At each home they would be given small round cakes called “souls.” “Each cake eaten would represent a soul being freed from Purgatory” (Wikepedia). Obviously not a doctrinally sound idea, but it’s still interesting to note this comes from a Church tradition. Incidentally, the first time these two words were put together as “trick or treat” in print was in 1927, during community-backed efforts to offer an alternative activity to the pranks which were becoming increasingly destructive in the United States. This alternative activity, at least in theory, now gave home-owners the opportunity to avoid a ‘trick’ by giving a ‘treat.’ All of which to say – “trick-or-treating” as it appears today is an American hybrid of mixed traditions.
There is nothing evil about a pumpkin, carved or otherwise (the Irish carved potatoes and turnips, not pumpkins… potatoes aren’t evil either). Neither is there anything inherently evil about a date on a calendar, like Oct. 31st. Bill mentioned this a couple sermons ago when he reminded us that what really matters is not the environment, but the invironment. So did Jesus. In Mark chapter 7 Jesus defends his disciples from the legalistic Pharisees, so externally oriented (works, actions, appearances) that they accuse Christ’s followers of sin because they aren’t performing the traditional ceremonial washing of their hands and utensils before they eat. Listen to what Jesus says:
14 ”Again Jesus called the crowd to him and said, "Listen to me, everyone, and understand this. 15Nothing outside a man can make him 'unclean' by going into him. Rather, it is what comes out of a man that makes him 'unclean."Every day we Christians are exposed to objects, ideas, people and activities that are part of a fallen world. And the truth about us, throughout all ages, has remained the same – we have been called, just like Jesus, to be “in” the world (Jn. 17). We don’t have to be afraid to hijack our cultural traditions as tools to reach lost people; Halloween, like anything else in this world, has only as much power over us as we choose to give it, by the grace of God. We are children of the King – and “..the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world”(1Jn. 4:4). We are not defined by what we come in contact with externally, but by Him who lives in our hearts. To me, Halloween is just another day, just another opportunity to take advantage of in order to advance the Kingdom of God. But that's me; you decide.