Spooky. Sinister. Satanic. These are some of the words that encapsulate the feelings many Christians have toward Halloween, or All Hallow’s Eve. Considering many of the images portrayed in the movies and on television, it’s no wonder.
The pagan origin of the holiday also draws ire and indignation. Of course, we should also note how Christmas has its own pagan background. The Roman celebration of Sol Invictus (the unconquered Sun) on December 25 was transformed into the Nativity of Jesus. That’s considering most scholars now agree that Jesus was born in the spring.
And then we have the highest of holy days, Easter. The name comes from Eostre (with various spellings), a goddess of fertility. Easter bunnies, Easter eggs—it’s easy to see how that follows. Long story short, a celebration of fertility, of renewal, was easily transformed into a celebration of new life, of resurrection.
Certainly, one of the key elements of Halloween is treat-or-treating. Its origins are a bit fuzzy, but the general theme is that spirits of the dead would visit on that night. People would dress up in costumes to ward them off. Feasts would be set out to pacify them. And there’s the jack-o’-lantern, said to come from Stingy Jack. His trickery upset both God and the devil, and he was sent to roam the earth, carrying the gourd with only a coal to provide light. (Jack of the lantern!)
The church transformed recognition of the spirits of the dead into the celebration of the great cloud of witnesses called All Saints’ Day. Still, it might be pointed out, that’s the day after. What about All Hallow’s Eve itself?
No doubt there are various traditions around the world, but interestingly, the Episcopal Book of Common Services of 2003 has a service for the evening. It presents some aspects that have evolved over time. A couple of the readings include the story of the witch of Endor in 1 Samuel 28, in which Saul consults a medium to see if he should attack the Philistines.
Another portrays the vision of Eliphaz in the book of Job, chapter 4. He speaks of a nightmare in which an apparition appears, warning Job not to question the ways of God. I’ve always liked this part of the book. Maybe you’ll dream about it tonight!
12 Now a word came stealing to me, my ear received the whisper of it.
13 Amid thoughts from visions of the night, when deep sleep falls on mortals,
14 dread came upon me, and trembling, which made all my bones shake.
15 A spirit glided past my face; the hair of my flesh bristled.
16 It stood still, but I could not discern its appearance. A form was before my eyes; there was silence, then I heard a voice:
17 “Can mortals be righteous before God? Can human beings be pure before their Maker?”
Many Christians are put off by Halloween’s perceived celebration of death. I would suggest what is celebrated is the transition, the change, from this world to the next—not death itself. Having said that, doesn’t Christian faith regard death as defeated? Hasn’t our Lord tasted death and overcome it? The apostle Paul says, “Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died” (1 Cor 15:20).
One more bit about that worship service. It has a prayer which proclaims, “You, O Lord, have made us from the dust of the earth and to dust our bodies shall return; yet you have also breathed your Spirit upon us and called us to new life in you: Have mercy upon us, now and at the hour of our death; through Jesus Christ, our mediator and advocate. Amen.”
Here’s one last thought, for a moment jettisoning theological weightiness. Isn’t it okay to simply consider Halloween as a night that’s fun? I’ve often considered a sense of humor as part of the image of God within us. (Oops, maybe I’m getting into that theological weightiness!)
Therefore I say, “Trick or treat!”
[Halloween 2007, with the kids of some friends. I’m dressed as a sad Dolphins fan, who at the time were 0-8. They finished with a 1-15 record.]