Happy Halloween

Early European cultures—including the Celts and the Germans—observed holidays on the solstices and equinoxes, and also on the mid-point dates between those events. Those four “cross-quarter days” remain on our calendars as Groundhog Day and May Day, but the most popular of those celebrations is what the Celts called Samhain and what we now call Halloween.

This festival comes at a troubling time of year. The weather is growing colder; days are shorter and nights are longer. In the United States, on even-numbered years, voters choose their leaders right after Halloween. Also, for no particular reason, clocks are adjusted by an hour in much of the country, making midday closer to noon but also advancing sunset by a wrenching hour. (Having more light in the morning is a small gain from the adjustment, but scarcely sufficient reason to toy with everyone’s personal schedules.)

Christian missionaries adopted some festive customs from the pre-Christian population of Europe, turning Yuletide into Christmas and blending springtime fertility celebrations with the observance of the Lord’s resurrection. As for Samhain, Christians invented a second resurrection observance that they call All Saints’ Day. Instead of fearing ghosts and goblins, Christians celebrate their conviction that those they love who have died are not haunting them here on earth but instead are with the Lord in Paradise awaiting their resurrection on the Day of his appearing. When they observe All Saints’ Day, Christian remember Biblical saints, saints from later Church history, and saints they have known: grandparents, parents, friends, and the like. All Saints’ Day is also called All Hallows Day, making the night before the holiday All Hallows Eve, or Halloween.

At one time, Halloween was a children’s celebration. They had parties at school or at their homes, wearing costumes, bobbing for apples, eating sweets, and generally having a good time. They wore their costumes and visited their neighbors, threatening tricks and demanding treats. They were entertained by scary stories, comfortable with the knowledge that they were hearing these stories in a safe environment and that the fear and dread of these stories was only make-believe.

Then there was a generation that didn’t grow up. They were not content to let their children enjoy Halloween in childish ways; they clung to the fear and dread of the season and enhanced it for adult minds and hearts. From macabre decorations in their homes to horror movies to carefully staged haunted houses, this generation has turned Halloween into an entire season that rivals the Christmas season in buying and spending.

Many adults love Halloween. Some wish that Halloween would last the entire year. They wear costumes to work; they even dress their dogs and cats in Halloween costumes. The “hallowed” part of Halloween is largely forgotten. Ghosts, goblins, witches, monsters, and politicians are on everyone’s minds. The thrill of being frightened means more these days than Christian promises about the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting. Some well-meaning Christians attempt to tone Halloween down to a “Harvest Festival.” Others remember the great Halloween prank devised five hundred years ago by a monk in Saxony who posted some controversial sentences about forgiveness on a church door. However you choose to celebrate this cross-quarter day, I hope and pray that your celebrations are safe and enjoyable. J.

The Festival of All Saints

An on-going argument asks whether the world has stolen Christmas from the Church or the Church first claimed December 25 from worldly celebrations. No question needs to be asked about the Festival of All Saints (November 1). This festival clearly was established by Christians to replace a pagan holiday held in the middle of autumn every year.

Some (not all!) ancient European cultures marked a night half-way between the autumn equinox and the winter solstice. Days are getting shorter, nights are getting longer, and both are getting colder, so thoughts of death are in peoples’ minds. Some European people believed that the spirits of the dead could wander the earth on this night; others thought of witchcraft or of various monsters set loose for the Night of the Dead. Treats were offered to these malevolent beings to bribe them, asking that they not play tricks on the living. Clearly, many Halloween customs have their origin in this preChristian observance.

Christian missionaries sought to counter this superstition with a holiday that would remind believers that Jesus has conquered death and the grave, that evil and darkness cannot prevail against him or his Church. Therefore, November 1 was designated “All Saints Day.” It was meant to be an autumnal echo of the Festival of the Resurrection, or Easter Sunday, that occurs every year in the springtime. As Christians remember the saints, we also remember who changed them from sinners to saints and who shares with them a victory over evil and death. Like every other Christian celebration, the Festival of All Saints is about Jesus Christ.

Saints are citizens of the kingdom of heaven. They are people who trust in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. Some saints are alive on earth, battling tribulation with the power of the Gospel. Other saints are with Jesus in Paradise, free from the struggles of this life, awaiting the day of resurrection. When Jesus appears in glory, all the dead will be raised—not undead zombies, but living beings, healed from all their former sicknesses and injuries. All will stand before the throne of Christ, and he will welcome the saints into the new and perfect creation. Those who did not want to be saints will be sent away to share the punishment of Satan and the other fallen angels.

During this Festival of All Saints (which some congregations observe on the first Sunday of November, not necessarily November 1), Christians remember the saints. We remember Biblical saints from both Testaments, all those who trusted God’s promises and were his people. We remember saints from more recent times—writers, teachers, reformers, hymnwriters, missionaries, and others who contributed to the life of the Church. We remember saints we have known—pastors and Sunday School teachers who told us about Jesus when we were young, as well as family and friends who have died and are buried. All these saints we will see on the Day of the Lord, the Resurrection Day that is coming.

But for Christians living in the tribulation, this is also our day. By the power of God’s Word, we also are saints. We celebrate the promises that we believe. We celebrate the gifts that come from Christ’s accomplishments—gifts of forgiveness, eternal life, and victory over all that is evil. While we don’t ask the saints in Paradise to pray for us or to work any favors for us, we do support one another in this world with our prayers and our encouragement. We look forward to a perfect world while we strive to do what good we can in this present world.

Some Christian congregations struggle against Halloween. They have autumn festivals or trunk and treat events to draw people away from Halloween observances. Lutherans, of course, have Reformation Day: the anniversary of Martin Luther posting his 95 theses on the eve of All Saints Day. But other Christians embrace Halloween. They see the festival as one more way to celebrate Christ’s victory over all that is evil. We do not need to fear ghosts, zombies, or other monsters. We do not even need to fear Satan. We can laugh at him, saying, “All evil has been crushed, and Christ our Lord reigns forever.” The Festival of All Saints gives us confidence that Christ has won and evil has lost forever. J.

The Festival of All Saints

The early people of Europe, both Celtic and Germanic, observed a holiday roughly halfway between the autumnal equinox and the winter solstice. Known by various names, this holiday was inspired by the fact that nights were getting longer, days were getting shorter, and nature was shutting down to prepare for the winter. Dark thoughts inspired images of ghosts, goblins, witches, and other monsters and fearful beings. Christian missionaries working among the Celtic and Germanic people countered with a Christian holiday, the Festival of All Saints. With this festival, Christians remind themselves and others that we do not need to fear ghosts and monsters, that the spirits of believers who have died are safely with Jesus in Paradise, and that the work of Jesus has conquered evil in all its forms.

A message being passed around Facebook claims that the Christian holiday is older, that Christians were celebrating the Festival of All Saints on the first of November long before Halloween became an observance on the thirty-first of October. Technically, this is true, since Christians were using the Julian calendar of the Roman Empire while Celts and Germans were still using a lunar calendar. Only rarely would their annual festival come the night before All Saints’ Day, but the festival of darkness and evil beings was being observed in Europe long before Christians began the Festival of All Saints.

Who was first in marking this time of year does not matter as much as whose observance is more significant. Let the creation of All Saints’ Day be a Christian response to the pagan observances that have become Halloween. The message about all the saints is still more meaningful than any message about ghosts and goblins. All Saints’ Day is a reminder of Easter on the far side of the calendar. Jesus is still risen, and all who trust in him are still rescued from death and the grave and are protected from every kind of evil.

Who, then, is a saint? Every believer in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior is a saint. Peter and Paul wrote letters addressed to saints, not addressed to spirits with Christ in Paradise, but addressed to Christians still living on the earth. It is customary on All Saints’ Day to think of those saints who have died and who are waiting for the Day of Resurrection; but for Christians alive on earth, this is our day too. We remember that we are saints, not because of what we have done for Jesus, but because of what Jesus has done for us.

Saints are holy people. Anything that is holy is the property of God. God’s name is holy, because it belongs to him (and Christians pray that God’s name be holy, or hallowed, among us). Times set aside for worship are holy times, because they belong to God. Places where Christians gather for worship are holy, because they belong to God. When Moses stood on holy ground—ground that belonged to God—he was told to remove his shoes so that common everyday dirt would not be tracked onto God’s holy dirt.

Holy people are also meant to be different from other people. Holy people are meant to be reminders of Jesus. We are different from other people because we love God and try to obey his commands. We are different from other people because we love our neighbors and seek to help them for the glory of God. Christians do not always succeed at this business of holiness. If we had to make ourselves holy, we would be total failures. But we do not make ourselves holy. Jesus makes us holy by his life, his death, and his resurrection. Jesus makes us holy through the gifts of his Church. Jesus makes us holy by claiming us as his own people.

What then of Halloween? Christians are free to observe Halloween or not as it suits them, provided they do not offend one another by their celebrations. Christians who want to give out free candy on Halloween are free to do so; those who do not wish to share candy do not have to share. Christian parents can send their children out to receive free candy or can find other things for them to do on that night. For some Christians, Halloween is a grim reminder of the evil from which they have been freed, and they would rather not think about evil at all. For other Christians, Halloween is a time to laugh at evil, our defeated enemy, and to celebrate the freedom we have received through Christ.

Christmas trees and Easter eggs and Halloween jack-o-lanterns might distract some people from the promises of Christ, but they are also fitting reminders of the promises of Christ. Nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus, and therefore anything in creation can be used to celebrate his love. Have a blessed Festival of All Saints this weekend, and also a happy Halloween. J.