Happy Halloween!! (Yes, I said “Happy Halloween”)

Growing up in the church, Halloween has always been a weird “holiday” for me. To say I’ve gotten some mixed signals would be an understatement.

The holiday actually has its roots in the Church. The festival of All Saints, or All Hallows (“hallows” meaning “saints”), has been celebrated by the Church for centuries, dating as far back as 270 A.D., as a way to honor those martyred for their faith in Christ. The feast is celebrated in the Western Church on November 1st (in May if you’re Eastern Orthodox). The name “Halloween” comes from “All Hallows Eve”, or the evening before the All Saints feast (October 31st).

The weird part about it for me is how Halloween is treated by the Evangelical church in America. Because Halloween has come to mean something altogether different in the United States – with ghouls and goblins and trick or treaters – many Evangelical churches feel the need to offer alternative celebrations. These celebrations are generally called “harvest festivals” or “harvest parties.” They’re a time for churches to gather together and give thanks to God for the harvest. (Not to be confused with Thanksgiving). Celebrating the harvest with festivities and feasts is historically a pagan practice.

In short, rather than redeeming Halloween by celebrating a Christian tradition that has been observed for nearly 2,000 years, the Evangelical church in America has turned a historically Christian holiday into a pagan practice. Which is, by the way, the exact opposite of what we did in taking the pagan observances of the winter solstice and the arrival of spring and turned them into Christmas and Easter.

We American Christians are an odd bunch. We’re almost as confused about the meaning of Halloween and its traditions as poor Linus.


14 thoughts on “Happy Halloween!! (Yes, I said “Happy Halloween”)

  1. While I do agree with your assessment that Christians are typically confused by Halloween. I’ve taken more of a interest these days in Halloween as it’s my Daughter’s birthday.

    While I currently Halloween has some routes in All-Saints Day, most of it’s routes can be found in the pagan celebration of Samhain.

    What does that mean for how we treat our current manifestation of this holiday? Over the years it seemed that the church as failed to “covert” the holiday from it’s pagan routes as they did with Christmas and Easter (former pagan solstice festivals. All-Saints Day was the attempt to “covert” Samhain, but it ended up falling on it’s own day.

    Personally, there is much of Halloween that really isn’t “good fun” for me anymore. Horrific glorification is not my cup of tea as it was when I was kid. However, that’s not to say it isn’t fun for kids to dress up and take that one day of the year to meet their neighbor. The Evangelical church typically wants to make a law out Halloween, to the point where saying it’s name (as Shane joked about) cannot be said. I find this ridiculous. And if you want to talk about Satan, well…why give him his own day? The prayer the church tends to soak this day might be the pray they should soak most days with. I believe that the day is really what you make it.

  2. I kind of interpret it differently. I see a delineation between “Halloweeen” the Christian holiday, the secular observance of Halloween and “Samhain.”

    The holiday (holy day) of “Halloween” has its roots entirely in Christianity. It has nothing to do with the harvest or any other pagan traditions. It is a day dedicated to honoring saints and martyrs. It’s very name is derivative of the meaning of the holiday.

    Now, the secular observance of Halloween – especially in America – does mimic many of the practices of Samhain. With costumes, and masks and ghouls and goblins. There’s no denying that of course.

    What I was poking a little fun at was the idea that in the American church’s attempt to downplay the secular observance of Halloween, it has created a third entity called the “harvest festival.” Which not only removes all of the original religious significance of “Halloween,” but celebrates the harvest, which is what Samhain was all about. It takes what was a Christian observance and makes it something similar to the pagan tradition they’re trying to avoid in the first place.

    I find that pretty ironic.

    Plus, we have Thanksgiving for giving thanks and celebrating the harvest anyway!

    Whereas, if we redeemed Halloween by pointing to its historical Christian significance and used it as an opportunity to talk about martyrdom, the sacrifice of the early church and the cost of discipleship – you know, if we celebrated Halloween – we might actually find our faith, and the faith of our children, enriched with a deeper sense of history and tradition.

    Or we could do what we always do and make up a lame, sanitized version of “the world’s” traditions and culture and call it our own.

    Dammit. If I ever get my mojo back and start a church we’re celebrating Halloween!

    Besides. We’re missing the point here. It’s all just an excuse to watch Charlie Brown on company time.

  3. All-Saints Day was the attempt to “covert” Samhain

    That’s really not consistent with the information I’ve been reading. Mostly because the Samhain was a fall celebration of the harvest, and “All-Saints Day” was observed in May from its inception to the time Pope Gregory III moved it to November 1st, somwhere between 731-741 AD.

    The observance of All-Saints Day predates the move to November 1st by about 500 years.

  4. I beleive that it is all how you raise your children and what you make of Halloween. If you make it out to be some scary holiday and evil, then that is what they will think of it as. I plan to make it a fun holiday where you can dress up as anything you want and get free candy from all the neighbors.

    I beleive that in today’s society, Halloween is nothing more than an excuse for Hallmark and and candy companies to sell a ton of merchandise and fill their pockets. Just like all of the other over commercialized holidays that we celebrate.

  5. See…I guess I see All Saint’s Day as really celebrating the original Christian version of Halloween. So, there is no need to make Oct 31 and Nov. 1 as designation of All Saint’s Day. So, I guess I see October 31 purely as the secular Halloween with it’s routes in Samhain, and November 1st with it’s routes in remembering the martyrs and saints. So, unless you’d like to make a two day celebration of the saints and martyrs, that’s fine.

    My church does do a “sanitized” Halloween party. But, mostly as a means of offering the kiddies a safe fun place to spend their evening. I don’t see this as any different from Valentine’s Day, or St. Patrick’s Day. (hmmmm…but they are actual church holidays turned secular.)

    All this I believe is semantics though. Most “harvest” or “Halloween” parties are a celebration of nothing other than an excuse to eat alot and or get together with friends. And with most parties, they’re under the head of whomever is running them. Their usually void of any meaning other then what you personally designate it as. So, if I’m to have a “Halloween” party, it will probably lend itself to fun costumes, candy, and good food with maybe a fall theme. Sanitized? Maybe? Totally Me? Of course. That doesn’t negate the fact that others will have blood and gore and who know what else. That’s their party, and they chose to make it that way.

    I guess I have more of a problem, and I know you would agree with me Shane, is Reformation Day. I believe that to be pure culture war and an obvious sanitation in my mind. Probably no different then what the church has done in the past with Christmas and Easter, but with Halloween it’s like, “We changed it once, and it didn’t work, so…let’s trying something else!” Hmmmmm…I don’t get it.

  6. About my “convert” statement (or “covert” I clearly misspelled)…

    I agree that All Saint’s Day is a holiday in it’s own rite, totally separate from Samhain as you’re right…it was May 13. But it was moved with the purpose of converting Samhain, like Christmas and other celebrations. Samhain was a harvest festival and a celebration of the dead, depending on your culture, so…it would make sense that Pope Gregory III change the “holiday” to November 1, with All-Saint’s Day’s celebrations starting as a vigil the night before at sundown.

    This is one of the “holiest” days for Wiccans as they celebrate…you guest it…the dead. Geeeee…that’s original. Clearly a throw back to the original Samhain celebrations.

  7. Like you said… semantics. It’s almost chicken-or-the-egg-esque.

    I don’t even find “harvest parties” morally objectionable really.

    It’s just that having grown up in the American church, which is almost utterly void of any sense of tradition or heritage that transcends 19th-21st century American culture, I’d really like to see a church tackle the idea of bringing Halloween/All Saints back to life.

    Have a silly party with costumes and games for a couple hours on Halloween if you want, then maybe invite someone from Voice of the Martyrs to speak during your worship gathering. Or maybe devote that morning’s teaching to a little church history. Something. ANYHTING.

    Oh, and in case anyone doesn’t know me well enough to read this into my comments… for the most part I’m being fuh-shee-sis.

  8. Thank you for this post! I completely agree with you. I also love your point about Evangelical Christians turning the day into a pagan-like time for celebrating the harvest.

    I would also like to add — Halloween is a day when people you don’t know show up at your house and you give them things that they didn’t earn, for free. That sounds pretty Christian to me.

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