Friday after Pentecost 18
October 9, 2009
The Lord be with you
Boo!!! Did I scare you? I didn’t think so. But there is a day later this month that does scare a lot of Christians. It is October 31, called Halloween on most American calendars. Children dress up in all kinds of costumes, elementary schools have carnivals, children go trick-or-treating, people decorate their homes with jack-o-lanterns, black and orange crepe paper, radio stations play “Thriller” and oldies stations play “Monster Mash,” candy sales soar, horror movies play on the television, new horror movies are released in the theaters, etc.
But some Christians fear that all this fun is just a smoke screen for a more sinister agenda, the advancement of Satan’s kingdom. Halloween, or All Hallows Eve, is claimed to be the day witches gather to conduct unholy rites. All the celebrations by the rest of us are viewed as supporting such activities. Such reasoning, though, is flawed. It is like the reasoning in the late 1960’s when some thought the peace sign worn by many teenagers was anti-Christian because, they said, it was an upside-down broken cross. The two uses were unrelated and the similar look did not indicate a similar meaning. It is like saying that Mary Stuart, who was called Bloody Mary, and the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor are related because Queen Mary was born on December 7 and Pearl Harbor was bombed on December 7.
Halloween actually has Christian and Pagan roots. The pagan roots come from the ancient Celtic tribes who lived in Ireland, Scotland, Wales and Brittany. For them November 1 marked the beginning of winter and a new year. The night before the new year they celebrated the festival of Samhain, the Lord of the Dead. during this festival the Celts believed the souls of the dead returned to mingle with the living. In order to scare away the evil ones people would wear masks and light bonfires.
When the pagan Romans conquered the Celts they added their own touches to the Samhain festival, such as making centerpieces out of apples and nuts for Pomona, the Roman goddess of the orchards. The Romans also bobbed for apples and drank cider.
Christianity does come to the area, like it did to the rest of the Roman Empire. In 835 Pope Gregory IV moved the celebration of All the Martyrs (later renamed All Saints) from May 13 to November 1. The night before became known as All Hallow’s Even, that is “holy evening.” Over time this was shortened to Halloween. November 2 became All Souls Day.
The purpose of these holy days is to remember those who have gone to glory before us. Not just the big names like Augustine, Martin Luther, etc., but also, and maybe especially, all the regular Christians like Uncle Bob, Aunt Mary, great grandpa Hank, and so on. It is a celebration of the “communion of saints.” They are a reminder that the Church is not simply composed of those who are alive today, but of all the saints, from Adam and Eve to the present. To honor this many churches remember in their worship services all those who have gone to be with the Lord, either in a special service on November 1, or in the first Sunday worship service after November 1.
Halloween, then, can be used by Christians as a way of reminding ourselves and others that the Church transcends time. Costumes may be of saints from all the ages. Refreshments might be from different ages. Games and activities could be from different ages. The scary part could even be maintained by remembering what believers have suffered for the sake of Christ. When someone wishes you a Happy Halloween, you could respond with “have a blessed All Saints Day.”
The pagan roots of Halloween are roots of fear. The masks and such were to protect people from the wicked dead. As Christians we have nothing to fear from the dead. We need not run in fear from Halloween. We should not become angry with others who wish us a Happy Halloween or decorate their homes. But we can use it as a time to share our faith, a time to speak of the eternal life all Christians have in Christ Jesus, especially those who are already with the Lord.
Protestants in general, and Lutherans in particular, have another reason to celebrate October 31, but that will wait for another post.
Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert