Hallowe’en is a contraction derived from “All hallows even,” and marks the beginning of All Saints Day on November 1st. All Saint’s is a time of commemorating those who have died in the faith. Martin Luther chose to post his 95 theses on Hallowe’en, possibly evoking the “great cloud of witnesses” that preceded him in Christ. Hallowe’en’s connection to death explains the somewhat macabre popular culture surrounding it. Jack-o’-lanterns were thought to guide departed spirits home. Costumes disguised the living from vengeful ghosts. Trick-or-treating may have started with the exchanging of soul cakes baked for those in purgatory.
Some trace Hallowe’en to the pagan Celtic celebration called Samhain (pronounced sah-win). Samhain celebrated summer’s end. Lengthening shadows were suggestive of spirits crossing into our realm. Treats were offered to gain the favor of these spirits. Candles helped the souls of relatives find their way home. It has been suggested that the Catholic church assimilated Samhain, throwing a Christian cloak around a pagan holiday.
Hallowe’en gets mixed reviews among Christians. Its connection to death and paganism gives some believers the heebie-jeebies. Churches often provide alternative celebrations with more religious themes. Not a few celebrate “Reformation Day,” purging October 31st of death, paganism, and Catholicism.
Should Christians celebrate Hallowe’en? This is something each person must decide according to their convictions. As Paul said, “One person considers one day to be above another day. Someone else considers every day to be the same. Each one must be fully convinced in his own mind” (Rom. 14:5, HCSB). In other words, there is more than one way to honor God on this day.
In closing, I’ll share my convictions about Hallowe’en. Is Hallowe’en the love-child of Catholicism and paganism? I can’t divine the motives of those around me, much less of those who lived centuries ago under different circumstances. Viewing Hallowe’en as nothing but a pragmatic compromise seems cynical. It also doesn’t give much credit to the spirituality of Medieval Catholics, which was, in some ways, more robust than our own. If the church did assimilate a pagan holiday, it illustrates the power of Christ’s redemption.
Hallowe’en’s light-hearted treatment of death evokes 1 Corinthians 15:55—“Death, where is your victory? Death, where is your sting?” (HCSB). Jesus destroyed death (2 Tim. 1:10). Mockery is one of the spoils of our victory in Christ.
Finally, “To the pure, everything is pure, but to those who are defiled and unbelieving nothing is pure; in fact, both their mind and conscience are defiled” (Titus 1:15, HCSB). Faith purifies Hallowe’en for me. There is nothing inherently sinful about wearing costumes, carving pumpkins, or eating candy. In fact, it’s all pretty fun. I am pure in Christ. Therefore, His purity touches everything I do. Doubting His purity defiles everything, including ourselves. I’d much rather trick-or-treat by faith than attend a Reformation party defiled by unbelief.
Whatever you do this October 31st, “do it enthusiastically, as something done for the Lord and not for men” (Col. 3:23, HCSB). Let Christ’s light shine so that those who are dead in the world can find their way home to God.