Unwrapping Halloween

by Pastor Mark Jordan 


“I assure you that the time is coming–and is here!–when the dead will hear the voice of God’s Son, and those who hear it will live. Just as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son to have life in himself.” (John 5.25-26, CEB)

Today is Halloween – a day that carries many mixed connotations and feelings. For many in the USA, it is a day of dressing up in silly costumes and for getting candy while trick-or-treating. For others, however, it is a day to glamorize the occult and place undue focus on the spiritual forces of wickedness. Personally, I’m not a big fan of Halloween. I have never liked scary things and I’m unnerved by things that go bump in the night. I am, however, a big fan of two prominent aspects of the day in the USA: costumes and candy! How about a brief history lesson at to the origin of Halloween, also known as All Hallows’
Eve? Let’s take a few minutes and unwrap Halloween. 

Though the day definitely has some roots in pagan rituals, many scholars believe it has roots
in Christianity. Halloween is observed on the eve of the Western Christian feast of All Saints Day. All Saints was introduced on May 13th of the year 609. In 835, it was switched to  November 1 under Pope Gregory IV to coincide with the same date as a Celtic observance called, Samhain, as a way to teach of GOD’s love, grace, and preeminence. In its earliest origins in connection to Halloween, All Saints Day was the day it was believed the souls of the departed made their transition from the physical world to the next. The night before their transition, it was thought that the spirits would roam the earth for one last hoorah. Some of the spirits were feared to be nasty, so people would wear costumes to disguise themselves from those that might seek revenge on the living. This gave rise to the tradition of  wearing costumes on Halloween.
In the 12th Century, the custom of “souling” emerged where people in Great
Britain and Ireland would go door-to-door and offer songs and/or prayers in exchange for
cakes, fruit, and other food items. The custom of souling in costumes, also known as guising,
is believed to have its origins in Scotland in the late 1800s, where costumed people carried hollowed out lanterns made from turnips. This tradition continued in North America, but
shifted to using pumpkins because of their size and softness, making them easier to carve.
They were more difficult to carry, however, and as a result, began to serve as jack-o-lanterns
and were used as a way to ward off the nasty spirits gallivanting about on Halloween. Trick-or-treating, as it is known today, is more of an Americanized tradition from
the original souling, allowing all children to enjoy the fun of costumes and sweet treats, with
the jack-o-lanterns informing kids and families that a particular home is open to passing out candy. 

I hope you find a little Halloween history helpful in connecting our modern day fun traditions
with the All Saints celebrations held in the Christian Church. There is no doubt
that Halloween should mean more in light of the Christian connections to our faith in
salvation and life eternal as we add an exclamation point to the belief that death is not the end.