Whilst the middle-of-the-day warmth may try to convince us it is still summer, the signs of autumn are all around us and the evening chill and earlier nightfall remind us that the year is turning inexorably onwards. The end of this month sees the ‘celebration’ of Hallowe’en, now the second biggest event after Christmas. Bigger than Bonfire night, bigger even than Easter. How has that happened?! It used to be much lower key – hardly more than a date on the calendar. Trick or treating was rare and no one seemed to hold Hallowe’en parties. The two big autumn celebrations were Harvest and Bonfire Night.
I suspect the reason it has grown so much owes a lot to the influence of American TV. Of course, all the shops have got in on the profitable act, promoting it via the sale of costumes, cards and gruesome foods and sweets.
So what should Christians think about it? Is it a bit of harmless fun or something rather more sinister? Well, let me share a little about its pagan roots.
Its origins date back 2,000 years to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain (sow–in). The Celts celebrated their new year on November 1st. They believed that on the night before New Year the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead became blurred and that the spirits of the dead could return and roam the earth. In an effort to frighten away or confuse the spirits, villagers would dress up in costumes and masks and parade around during the night. They would also leave parcels of food on their doorsteps to appease the spirits and hasten their progress. Mischievous children learnt to dress up as spirits and steal the food! Eventually the adults got wise to this and stopped putting the food out, so instead, the children knocked on doors, begging for the food and promising prayers for the dead in return – the early beginnings of trick-or-treating!
By the 7th Century Christianity had spread to the Celtic lands. Pope Boniface IV designated 1st November as All Saints’ Day, a time to honour saints and martyrs, in an attempt to replace the Celtic festival with a Christian one. The celebration was called All Hallows and the night before it, previously Samhain, became All Hallows Eve, later corrupted into Hallowe’en.
Of course, most people who participate in modern Hallowe’en festivities do so without any intention of associating themselves with the occult or other satanic traditions. So it may be hard to take a stand against it – especially if you have children or grandchildren who think you are being unreasonable if you stop them going to a Hallowe’en party. But if we, as Christians, join in, then the message we are giving is that we too think that all the talk of witches, devils and evil spirits is frivolous. If we hang scary decorations in our windows or entertain each other with macabre tales, then what are we doing but imitating that which is evil? Even the more innocent past times of Hallowe’en, such as trick-or-treating, can mislead children about what is good and wholesome and can be worrying for those who live alone and are concerned that not giving away sweets could have unpleasant repercussions.
As Christians we believe that Jesus is the Light of the World and has power over all that is evil or dark in this world, casting out all fear. We, in turn, are called to be Children of the Light. What can we offer then as an alternative? We could promote any local ‘Light Parties’ which may be taking place. Instead of sweets, there are lots of giveaways which we could hand out at the door: pencils, erasers, stickers and bookmarks etc which give a different message to children – that of the love and light of Jesus.* We can refuse to buy the Hallowe’en goods on offer. If we are brave, we might even say why!
Whatever you find yourself doing on the 31st October, may it be filled with the eternal peace and light which can only be found in Jesus Christ.
With every blessing,
*If you’d like me to obtain some giveaways for you, then please just ask me.