“Last year some people in my church hosted a Halloween party,” writes a gracEmail reader. “When I got there I was very uncomfortable with the decorations, which included pictures of witches, ghosts and demons. I stayed about 30 minutes then made an excuse and left. People tell me this is harmless fun. Am I making too much of this?”
* * *
The truth is that very devout Christians hold a variety of views toward Halloween, sometimes with great intensity. The word “Halloween” is a shortened form of “All Hallow’s Evening,” which in Anglican and Roman Catholic practice designates the evening before All Saints’ (Hallows) Day. That holiday, which falls on November 1, commemorates all godly people past and present who have departed this life ahead of us, and celebrates the union of the living and the dead in Christ. For that occasion the Book of Common Prayer provides these words: “Almighty God, you have knit together your elect in one communion and fellowship in the mystical body of your Son Christ our Lord: Give us grace so to follow your blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living, that we may come to those ineffable joys that you have prepared for those who truly love you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.”
Like Christmas and Easter, All Saints’ Day was the Church’s way of replacing a popular pagan holiday with a Christian festival. In Britain, November 1 was the Celtic New Year, and the preceding evening was Samhain. That night, the Celts believed, the dead returned to their homes for an evening and creation was reborn. This misty pagan past included bonfires, witches, black cats and lanterns made of pumpkins. Rejecting all that, the Church affirmed that Jesus has conquered all powers of darkness — and has emptied innocent symbols of originally dark meanings. The scary jack-o-lantern is actually nothing but a pumpkin with a candle inside! Cats are nothing but animals and nobody really rides on broomsticks.
Some Christians today ignore Halloween altogether. Others enjoy the children’s trick-or-treating, but shun the remnant symbols of Halloween’s darker origins — witches, black cats, bonfires, and the like. Others include those in their merrymaking also — “making fun” (in both senses) of the superstitious elements themselves. Still others use it to prepare their hearts and minds to celebrate All Saints’ Day the next morning. We might hope that Christian people will prayerfully form their own personal convictions on this topic, and then respect other equally-conscientious believers whose conclusions happen to differ from their own.