It’s happening; the leaves are falling with the incessant rain, the faint smell of over-ripe currants hangs in the air, and the fireweed’s transformation from climbing blossoms into floating, weightless cotton is complete. We have moved into Fall, with, at least for me, its accompanying dread of termination dust. So what is there to celebrate about Fall? I can almost hear children say Halloween! Costumes and candy! But how did Halloween begin?
Originally it was a Celtic festival called Samhain which celebrated the end of summer, the end of their calendar year, and honored the dead. The Celtics believed that those who died during the year went to the underworld on October 31st, the last day of their calendar. This journey brought the dead, one last time, in close proximity to the living. The living left out meat, fruits and vegetables, perhaps even set an extra dinner plate for their dead relatives. People dressed up in costume to honor the friendly dead; and wore other costumes to hide from the malevolent spirits, hoping the food set outside would appease their evil intent or trickery. With the arrival of missionaries came Christian celebrations to replace the pagan ones. However, elements of this festival refused to fade away into history. While Christians celebrated Hallowmas, a three day festival from October 31st to November 2nd honoring saints, martyrs and the dead, the superstitious still believed that on the first night of Hallowmas, All Hallow’s Eve (wherein the name ‘Halloween’ comes from), the dead wandered the earth. It was meant to be a night set aside for prayer, worship and preparation for the next two days known as All Hallowed Day and All Souls Day. Part of the preparations was baking small pastries called soul cakes. Children and the poor went home to home offering prayers for dead loved ones in exchange for the treats. Some believed this tradition released souls from Purgatory into Heaven. On All Hallowed Day saints and martyrs were celebrated for their exceptional holiness and courage even unto death, as well as other sanctified souls thought to have reached Heaven. The next day, All Souls Day, was open to remember all the dearly departed. Rituals included visiting graves, lighting candles, and praying for these souls’ sanctification so they may also leave Purgatory for Heaven.
These festivals explain Halloween’s elements of the underworld, wearing costumes, and providing treats to escape a trick. Should a Christian participate given its origin? Some say it celebrates evil, some say it is just for fun. I think it is a mixture of both. Dressing your kids up as a princess or a pumpkin for a Harvest/Halloween Carnival at a school or church is fun, not to mention parents letting kids eat candy! However, I think it is inappropriate for a Christian to dress up as something unsavory as it appears to celebrate the evil those creatures represent. People may think this opinion is too conservative; after all, it is only make-believe. But the spiritual realm is not make-believe. Ephesians 6:12 says ‘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.’ Unless done properly, and even then, exposure to the dark spiritual world can harm you. In Acts some Jews were impressed with Jesus and his disciples casting out demons; so they tried it themselves, in the name of Jesus. Acts 19:13b-16 reads ‘They would say, “In the name of the Jesus whom Paul preaches, I command you to come out.” One day the evil spirit answered them, “Jesus I know, and Paul I know about, but who are you?” Then the man who had the evil spirit jumped on them and overpowered them all. He gave them such a beating that they ran out of the house naked and bleeding.’ Why could the evil spirit overcome them? Because they said, “In the name of the Jesus whom Paul preaches,” not “in the name of THE Jesus whom I believe.” They had no faith in Jesus themselves; they just wanted the power to cast out demons. But the power of the Holy Spirit was not within them for the demon to recognize and obey; the Lord had not sent them on the mission.
As you celebrate Halloween with costumes and candy, also remember its ancient purpose. Consider the faith of exemplary Christians whose lives demonstrate the power of the Holy Spirit and the humble nature of a servant of God. Reminisce about the loved ones who are gone, and be sure to enjoy time with those still here. Pray for them and yourself to see God’s Spirit manifest in your lives. When deciding if something is part of your mission in life, determine how it contributes to you being transformed by the will of God, as Romans 12:2 says ‘Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.’