Halloween: An Epic Christian Holiday

Thanks to a long history of apprehension toward Halloween, calling it a “Christian holiday” might sound rather absurd- and understandably so.  What is more anti-Christian than celebrating terror, death, and the demonic?

Nothing… but that could be the reason Halloween came into existence in the first place.

There are very scholarly, very opinionated people with a wide variety of ideas about the formation of Halloween.  You’ll find no sure consensus here, but the traditions are worth looking at with fresh eyes.

Some people say Halloween traces its roots back to the Celtic festival of Samhain, during which druids would celebrate the darkening of the year by burning the bones of cattle and inviting the ghosts of loved ones into their homes.  It’s possible, given Church history, that Christian leaders merely co-opted this pagan festival. It’s also possible that the Christian holiday behind Halloween developed independently of pagan ritual and merely supplanted it.

Either way, “Halloween” means “the-day-before-All-Saints’-Day” in Scottish slang.  All Saints’ was instituted in the early 7th century and moved to November 1st by Pope Gregory IV in the 9th century.  Only the best saints received their very own days on the liturgical calendar (cf. the ever-so-studly Patrick or Valentine) and All Saints’ Day was created as a sort of catch-all, making sure none of the lesser-known saints were left out.  It comes as no big surprise that this “night before the church celebrated a massive group of deceased Christians” garnered an atmosphere of superstition and other-worldliness.

Exactly how the costume wearing and candy hocking traditions grew is, again, a matter of debate.  We’re pretty certain that the “candy” aspect of Halloween is related to the giving of “soul cakes” in England, but the costumes are somewhat more difficult to pin down.  Some suggest that costumes began as a method for hiding from malevolent spirits, but there is another perspective that asserts…

October 31st, for Christians, celebrates the seminal act which created saints in the first place (and the need for a holiday like All Saints’ Day); that is the victory of Jesus over the powers of fear, death, and the demonic.  

The very existence of witch/vampire/demon costumes is a direct consequence of Jesus’ victory on the cross and in the tomb- he has unmasked the powers and broken their grip on the human race. So we mock them.  We dress our kids up and make silly things out of them.  We remind our children (and ourselves) every Halloween that Jesus has done the impossible- he has defeated fear itself.

Happy Halloween, loved ones.

Allen Marshall O'Brien

Allen Marshall O’Brien is the pastor of a UCC church in Northern California and co-host of the Irenicast. He believes in the importance of education, peace, and ecology, throws things to his border collie Sonata, and writes for multiple platforms.

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