AS HEATED AS THE POLITICAL scene may be, it pales in fervour with which Christians will debate Halloween. This battle of ideas will be waged from the beaches of church pews to the hills of Facebook. There will be shots fired and people unfriended.
But what cyber surfing culture warrior would be complete without some historical trivia and theological sanity? Here you go...
The Background Story
Though many Christians avoid Halloween because it, at first, seems too dark or too commercial, 'All Hallow’s Eve' is neither American nor pagan in heritage. The name should be obvious enough. Hallow means ‘holy’ (‘Hallowed be thy name’) and it marks a three-day celebration of the victory of Jesus over the powers of darkness as experienced by departed saints and Christian martyrs - with November 1st being All Saints Day. These type of celebrations have happened since the 300’s AD and the date became formalised on the Church calendar in 835 AD by Pope Gregory.
Traditionally, this holy day was a time to remember Christ’s victory over darkness and to remember that we still have to battle against evil. As St. Paul writes in Ephesians 6,
For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
How have Christians historically celebrated this? By joyful mockery. Satan has lost his final victory, is a defeated foe and nothing pushes back his minions like Christian joy. It is from this tradition that people draw silly pictures of the devil and let their kids dress up as ghosts to show that he can no longer dominate the redeemed people of God - we no longer need to be afraid. Historically, Christians would even burn the costumes afterwards.
Now I confess, there has been a historic debate about this day. Catholics and Protestants have argued over how departed Christians should be viewed - with Catholics seen as sometimes over-venerating these past Saints. But both Protestants and Catholics historically understood that the main point of the holiday is Christ's victory with his people over evil.
Halloween is also a historic occasion for friendship. Though sweets (candy) is abundant and cheap today, in previous centuries, giving these small gifts to children was more costly and an act of true Christian generosity.
Christmas and Easter
Christians are a redeemed people and as such we have a cheeky tendency to alchemise the culture around us. We make once wicked things into trophies for our God. We did this with Christmas and Easter. Those holidays have pagan roots – but we’ve stolen the whole thing and redirected it to honour Jesus. No longer is Saturnalias worshipped mid–winter, now we sing the praises of Christ through carols.
But now pagans and the commercial industry is trying are trying to get revenge for Christmas and Easter by hijacking our All Hallow’s Eve – a holiday that started out Christian. They try to claim associations with ancient Celtic Harvest days. They want to change it into a day of celebrating the powers of darkness over the powers of light. Unfortunately, some Christians are unaware of their own roots and have let the pagans think for them - buying into this propaganda.
Letting let the pagans and mainstream commercial society have our day show's a certain type of cowardly insanity. We Christians are retreating from a holiday that was once wholly ours. Let's reclaim the victorious and hospitable traditions of the past and teach the children around us that through Christ's death and resurrection, we no longer need to be afraid.
Let’s celebrate All Hallow’s Eve big this year. The sweets you give your neighbourhood children should be far more generous and grad than those given to them by your unbelieving neighbours!
Let’s celebrate Christ's victory with style - until he returns for all his Hallows.
For more on overcoming evil, see our book Elijah Men Eat Meat