So let us just clear up one annoying thing; right from the start – ‘halloween’ – just means Hallows Eve, think Christmas Eve – but the festival is called Hallowmas, not Christmas. So you would never say ‘happy halloween’ just like you would never say ‘happy Christmas eve’; it just makes no sense. Ok, now I have gotten that off my chest, lets try and be a bit more serious. Hallowmas, is a festival overlaid with urban myths and and legends, and I want to lay out the case that Hallowmas is actually a wonderful Christian holiday.
The Hallowmas festival is a triduum, (a three day festival) that is not really being celebrated over three days – more to the loss; in which Christians, who believe that the communion of saints continues post mortem, pray for, and to those very saints, and remember their Christian family members who have gone to their rest in the Lord. It is a time to remember also the martyrs and those who have given their lives for the Christ; and his Kingdom. A spiritual ‘remembrance day’ if you will – of the champions of the faith. This should be a festival, that refreshes our souls and inspires us; sadly lots of Christians avoid the festival like the plague; and those that celebrate it do so in very unimaginative fellowships and waste this wonderful opportunity. I hope to address all of this in this article as well as offer ideas about how we can maximise this festival.
However, firstly lets address one big myth working at large in the Church and society – that Halloween is a pagan festival in origin. The urban myth goes along the lines that Christians put All Saints Day on the Irish Pagan festival of Samhain. This can be dispelled by pointing out that all different kinds of Christian communities celebrate the Saints and Martyrs on all different kinds of days, for instance: the Coptic Christian community of Egypt celebrate Feast of Nayrouz on September the 11th; the beginning of their liturgical calendar. A celebration of the all the martyrs of the Church. Orthodox Christians celebrate all Saints Day the Sunday after Pentecost, so well before November; and the Latin Christians of Rome, use to celebrate all holy Martyrs on May the 13th. Pope Gregory IV changed the date to the 1st of November in 837AD. Now please note well the connection to martyrdom here, because this is what busts this myth completely; Christians have been celebrating the martyrs, well since pretty much the first martyrs. One sees this just by reading the Martyrdom of Polycarp.
“Accordingly, we afterwards took up his bones, as being more precious than the most exquisite jewels, and more purified than gold, and deposited them in a fitting place, whither, being gathered together, as opportunity is allowed us, with joy and rejoicing, the Lord shall grant us to celebrate the anniversary of his martyrdom, both in memory of those who have already finished their course, and for the exercising and preparation of those yet to walk in their steps.” (Ch 18) 150 – 200 AD.
Please note the date for the quote above, and please note that Christianity did not reach Ireland until around 400AD. So this myth, like many others really does need to be shot down. Christians began collecting and celebrating the festivals of the martyrs in what were called Hagiographies, and this became a calendar of sorts, which, when it became so numerous, saw the birth of a catch all celebration of all the martyrs. This then, when Christianity became official, started to include, Saints, who had not been martyred but that the Church still wanted to remember; this was all before, our encounter with pagans in Ireland. Celebrating all the saints, is a deeply rooted Christian belief and practice, quite apart from paganism. Though, I will be the first to admit, such celebrations have been used evangelistically by Christians in their evangelism of Pagans – I am not even slightly embarrassed or ashamed of that fact.
So, I hope that part of the puzzle is put to bed. However, some reformed Christians may object, and still not wish to participate because of the whole ‘praying to saints’ thing. Indeed, after the Reformation, because Luther stuck his thesis on the Cathedral doors on the 31st of October, tried to Launch a popular replacement of Hallowmas, could ‘Reformation Day’ – in which they celebrate the life of Luther, and the birth of the Reformation, remembering the core principles of Reformation Christianity. This is exactly how ‘all saints day’ got started, remember the contribution of the saints. So ironically we see here a bridge, by whit, Reformed Christians can participate in Hallowmas. They could (without praying to anyone) celebrate the memories of saints of old (certainly the 12 Apostles, Mary and other biblical characters) and others, like for instance Billy Graham, and more, remembering their contributions, telling their stories; inspiring themselves with these champions of faith; and thanking GOD for His work through their lives. I think all Christians could do that – whether they pray to them or not!
So how could we celebrate Hallowmas: well its a celebration; so why not have a party, food, drink, fire works, bonfires, and music; in the evening of each of the three days 31st – 2nd of November. Why not invite people who attend to have a competition in which they retell the stories of their favourite saint, and then pick the most impressive to receive a prize voted for by the rest. Why not get children and youth to re-enact the lives of some saint or other. I mean you are only limited by your imagination. Why not hold a procession at night around the neighbourhood. Why get your kids to dress up as Christian saints, knights, and angels, and then go door to door, offering, yes I said OFFERING, chocolates and prayers to people and offering to bless their houses and families. Why not learn the hymns praising saints and sending out a candle lit pumpkin choir to go door to door. I mean lets celebrate and remember the saints.
This can also be a great place of unity amongst Christians. The theme of the martyrs reminds us, that the suffering Church is real; and that solidarity with them is a real thing, so why not organise joint protests and awareness campaigns amongst the Churches in your area to raise awareness about the plight of the persecuted Church. Why not organise special collections for the persecuted Church. Christians could also hold services together, to celebrate (without the praying – applying the principle of weaker conscience) the memories of the saints of the Church.
Let us not forget – the great opportunity it is to evangelise. The western consumerist culture, has discovered, that people party around this time of year; and they use it to sell things to people. Which means this festival has become big around the consumerist world. This gives us Christians an opportunity to connect our faith to popular culture – connecting people to all kinds of Christian themes ideas and beliefs. How we do this is again only limited by our imagination.
I hope and pray that Christians should not shrink from this festival, but embrace it with both hands and see it for all the opportunity it is! Urban myths of its pagan origins or of it being a night of ‘occult’ (which it may well have become) because we have not contended for its history; and so ignorance has given rise to superstition; does not mean that we Christians should not pick up the ball and get back into the game.
This issue of history is an important one, and I want to use the pagan festival of Samhain as an example; nothing of what we know about Samhain, suggests any connection to any of our popular culture customs about Halloween. Nothing, nada. It is simply an urban myth. It was a farming festival connected to the onset of winter. WE Christians, must contend for our history; or others will tell our history for us, and not to our liking or benefit. Indeed, we frame ourselves individually and corporately from our understanding of history; and this is why it is so important for us – to tell our own story as the Church. Many modern Christians have forgotten this important lesson, and we need to recover the truth of it. Learning the stories of the saints is a great place to start.