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.