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.