Once again the Halloween season is upon us and the Facebook debates are over whether Christians should celebrate are warming up. Usually, these posts – both for and against – show a surprising lack of understanding of the holiday’s Christian roots.
The devil would love to steal Halloween away from Christians. He is making good progress at it too.
All Hollow’s Eve (Halloween) 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.
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.
Now common sense tells you that if it's a turd - don't try to polish it. But Christians are a redeemed people and as such we have a cheeky tendency to alchemise the culture around us - make once wicked things into trophies for our God. We did this with Christmas and Easter when we hijacked them from the ancient pagans and gave them Jesus centred meanings. But now pagans and the commercial industry is trying to hijack Halloween – a holiday that actually 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.
Letting let the pagans and mainstream commercial society have our day shows a certain type of insane cowardice. 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.
May we celebrate Christ's victory - until he returns for all his Hallows.