What’s all The Fuss About Halloween?
As an Afro-Caribbean woman, Halloween was never something I was really allowed to participate in growing up. We would always have an ample supply of sweets in our house to hand out to the trick or treaters, but we were never ones to dress up, go trick or treating or carve pumpkins ourselves. As I got older, I went to friends’ Halloween parties and I’ve even taken my own daughter pumpkin picking and decorated/carved pumpkins with her and friends. But what is the meaning behind Halloween and is it really something we should fear and avoid as Christians OR is it something to be celebrated but in a different way than the commercialisation calls for?
Just a disclaimer, I have borrowed from a lot of different sites to pull all this information into one, (hopefully) easy blog for you to follow, all of which I have sited at the end of the end of the blog.
What Is Halloween?
Halloween is a condensed way of saying All Hallowed Eve, which falls on 31st October and refers to the day before All Saints Day (November 1st).
According to dictionary.com, the word “Halloween” is a “direct derivation of All Saints Day” with “All Hallows” in Old English meaning “the feast of the saints.” To hallow is “to make holy or sacred, to sanctify or consecrate, to venerate.” The adjective hallowed, as used in The Lord’s Prayer, means holy, consecrated, sacred, or revered. The noun hallow, is a synonym of the word saint.
This period of time is celebrated by many different cultures in different ways associated with gathering in the harvest, preparing for winter, remembering loved ones who have died, and preparing for the time of longer nights and winter cold.
Where Did Halloween Come From?
Though the original roots of All Hallow’s Eve aren’t certain, it has been traced back to the countries of Ireland, Britain, and France. The Celts of Ireland, Britain and France divided their year into halves: the light half and the dark half. The light half consisted of the Spring and Summer months. The dark half was the opposite. It consisted of the Autumn and Winter months. To mark the end of Summer, the Celts held a harvest festival known as Samhain steeped in superstition and fear of evil. It was celebrated on the 31st October beginning at sunset and ending at sunset on November 1.
Samhain was also associated with human death. The Druids built bonfires for the people to make sacrifices of crops and animals. Those who participated in the festival would dance around a bonfire. Some of the dances were a representation of the circle of life and death. The Celts also believed that on the night before the 2nd half of the year, the boundary between the worlds of the dead and living became blurred. It was believed that ghosts of the dead could return to earth at that time. It was believed these spirits could hide livestock, haunt the living and destroy their crops. For this reason, they concealed their real identities from the spirits through the use of costumes made from animal skins and heads (where the idea of dressing up for Halloween comes from).
Following the Roman conquest of Britain, British Celts adopted the Julian calendar and fixed the date of Samhain’s observance to November 1.
As Christianity spread throughout the world, pagan holidays were either Christianised or forgotten. Samhain evolved into Halloween. It became a day of activities like making jack-o-lanterns from pumpkins, bobbing for apples, trick-or-treating and other festivities were enjoyed. They remain a celebrated part of Halloween to this day, many centuries later. In other countries as well as in Catholicism, some people attend church services while some Christians also abstain from meat, eating vegetarian foods including potato pancakes, apples and soul cakes.
If you’d like to hear more about the origins of Halloween, I found this podcast from a couple of years ago really insightful (it’s another one from the As For Me & My House podcast) – it’s a long one but definitely well worth the watch or listen.
A timeline of Halloween can be seen here.
All Saints Day
Around 609 A.D., Pope Boniface IV reconsecrated the Pantheon in Rome and renamed it the Church of St. Mary and the Martyrs. He established the anniversary as a day of celebratory remembrance for all of the Church’s martyrs. Later, Pope Gregory III changed the date to November 1st, during the dedication of St. Peter’s Basilica to “all saints,” in an effort to combat pagan worship.
November 1st became All Saints Day, otherwise known as All Hallow’s Day. Christians would come together on this day to ask for God’s protection from evil in the world as well as blessings. Patrons would dress up in costumes of evil spirits or saints in order to depict the battle between good and evil.
These days, however, All Saints’ Day celebrates men and women in whose lives the Church has seen the grace of God powerfully at work. It is an opportunity to give thanks for that grace, and for the wonderful ends to which it shapes a human life; it is a time to be encouraged by the example of the saints and to recall that sanctity may grow in ordinary, everyday circumstances, as well as the extraordinary, of human living.
All Souls Day
The Commemoration Of The Faithful Departed celebrates the saints in a more local and intimate key. It allows us to remember with thanksgiving before God those whom we have known more directly: those who gave us life, or who nurtured us in faith.
This day is mostly observed in the Catholic Church as well as the Eastern Orthodox churches. Roman Catholics believe that the souls of the faithful who, at death have not been cleansed from their sins and punishment, could not attain Heaven and are instead sent to Purgatory. It was believed, based on certain books of the Catholic Bible, that these trapped souls could be helped by prayer. They could then be cleansed of their sins and receive full sanctification to gain entrance to Heaven.
What Halloween Means To Us As Church
Churches and the Christian faith in modern day society seems to try and avoid talking or teaching about the spiritual realm and I think this lack of discussion or mystery is what has made people afraid of it. However, at church At Barking Riverside, we are open. We don’t participate in the negative connotations: dressing up in scary costumes, dialling up the spooky and evil that Halloween has become. Instead, we like to focus on our loved ones and heroes. Those who have gone before us and had a positive impact on us or our community. It’s a time to thank God that we were blessed to have such wonderful people in our lives and rather than focusing on the darkness Halloween can be shrouded in, we choose to focus on the light.
And that’s exactly what we did on our Social Sunday; we remembered our loved ones and heroes. Yes, there was pumpkin carving and decorating, we also had cookie decorating, but more importantly, we had our Memory Wall. This was a space people (kids and adults alike) could write a prayer, message or draw in memory of a loved one or role model that had passed. There was the chance to say a prayer and light a candle for them.
For other resources on how to flip Halloween to have a positive focus, check these out that you can get involved with or enjoy next year:
My New Take On Halloween
Having read through everything to do with All Hallows Eve, All Saints Day & All Souls Day, I don’t think Halloween is actually something to be feared by Christians. Some aspects that have been taken from Samhain may have very dark connotations, but as with many other things in modern day life that have pagen origins, Halloween doesn’t have to be something that celebrates evil or the enemy. In actual fact, celebrating those who have gone before us seems like a wonderful thing to do to me. As an Anglican, I don’t believe in purgatory, but remembering and thanking God for the blessing of having our loved ones in our lives is a great way to ‘celebrate’ this time of the year. One thing I might do slightly differently next year though is carve less scary pumpkins, but who knows…