When I was a child, I loved Halloween. I loved dressing up, trick-or-treating, and counting the candy haul at the end of the night. I loved spooky front porches: the flickering jack-o-lanterns, dangling skeletons, spidery cobwebs and simmering cauldrons. It was silly fun with friends to scare and be scared on this night that celebrated all things supernatural.
As an adult, and as a priest, I still love Halloween. At Holy Comforter, we invite kids to wear their costumes the Sunday before, and enjoy a trunk-or-treat in our parking lot after worship. I know many other churches are planning the same.
Some people express surprise that a church participates in Halloween. Did you know the celebration has Christian roots? It takes a little digging to uncover the history behind the costumes and the candy, but Halloween’s origin is every bit as Christian as Christmas.
The word Hallowe’en is a shortening of All Hallow Evening, as in, the night before All Hallow’s Day. Hallow means holy, and November 1 is commemorated in the Christian calendar as the Feast of All Saints.
This holy day has roots tracing back to the fourth century, a time when many Christians were dying for their faith. The church recognized martyrs on the anniversaries of their death. As the number of martyrs increased beyond the days on the calendar, November 1 became a catch all to celebrate all the saints of the church.
Historically, All Saints’ Day honored persons of heroic sanctity for their example. Their faithfulness in the past serves to inspire our faithfulness in the present. The Feast eventually extended to the following day as well. All Souls’ Day, November 2, honors all who have died. These feast days are a time for us to give thanks for those whom we love but see no longer, to remember that we stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before us. In its depiction of Dia de los Muertos, the Pixar movie CoCo portrayed this intimate connection between the living and the dead beautifully. We are surrounded by a community of saints who continue to love us and cheer us on from beyond the grave.
Halloween is an amazing opportunity for Christians to witness their faith. We believe that there is life beyond the grave. God has granted us the victory over death through the resurrection of Jesus. That same God is working in us even while we’re alive to help us grow in love. We belong to God, and nothing can separate us from the love of Christ. Because evil and death have no power over us, we can have fun with things that are spooky and scary.
So, bring on the ghosts and the zombies, the devils and the haunted houses. Enjoy the fright night, and when you wake up, give thanks for what is real: a community of love spanning past, present and future.