Families in our street have been excited about this for weeks. Plans and costumes have been made, decorations and pumpkins have been prepared, and our 4 year-old son and his friends have been counting the days until they go out together on a dark night for a (slightly) scary adventure with monsters, stories and sweets.
What’s not to like?
Every year I seem to have conversations like this with the one group of people I thought would really get the reason for the season. Christians are all over the place with Halloween. Many have felt conflicted about it for years, for a bunch of reasons.
For some, it’s glorifying evil and things we’d rather steer away from. I get it – we don’t want more evil or darkness in the world. (Who does?) For others, it’s like spoiled, commercialised Christmas all over again, with so many people cashing in on something which might have been good once, but now seems mainly about sweets. (And your problem with sweets is…??? No, I get it. There’s serious stuff to learn here. Heaven help us if we want to have fun at the same time.)
All of this, I think, is understandable. It’s also redeemable with one simple idea. The true meaning of Halloween:
It’s a celebration of how evil is coming to an end.
Simple as that.
We could go into all the roots of it. The clue is in the name – “Hallow” comes from another word for “Saint”, and “een” means “eve”, the day before… what? “Halloween” on October 31st was historically paired with “All Saints Day” on November 1st, where the great people of faith would be remembered for the positive difference they had made to the world, part of God’s much bigger plan to renew and redeem everything.
Like other Christian festivals, including Christmas, the timing for this was parked on top of older, pagan festivals rooted in the changing of seasons, linked to ancient stories of life, death and renewal. Jesus, with all the love in the world, and the church (sometimes, sadly, with less love) have a track record of sharing life-changing ideas by re-framing people’s symbols and celebrations. In this case, as you can see for yourself in The History Channel’s summary, the list of Halloween’s references and predecessors is huge. There are Celtic new year celebrations, Roman remembrances of the dead, and a whole bunch of different Christian ideas, symbols and traditions, all bundled into the mix.
I find it amazing that across this breadth of history and cultures, there is a lasting and seemingly universal longing for life to be better and for death not to have the last say in life.
This is one reason why it makes a lot of sense for Christians to get fully into Halloween. It’s not just a bit of fun, it links to the deep longing we all have for a better world. There’s an opportunity to share what we are looking forward to, and why we think evil is overcome by good.
For all the complexities of its roots, and all the fun of the festivities, for me, Halloween is about one thing – the end of evil.
But is evil really coming to an end?
This is a matter of faith for Christians. If you’re following Jesus, he promises that it is, so I’d believe him. But with the state of the world today, I can see how this is hard to accept.
A friend of mine likens our current situation to the time in World War 2 between D-Day and the end of the war.
There is fighting, death, even horror. It’s hard to avoid reminders of evil in the world, not just on the news but wherever we see injustice on our own streets, feel it in our own lives, or have the self-awareness to realise how we sometimes hurt others through things we do and things we fail to do.
At the risk of sounding preachy from this point (trust me, I wouldn’t go door to door forcing this on anyone!), here is what I believe: Jesus overcame evil and death, proved by his death and rising to life.
We celebrate that at Easter, but in our WWII analogy, it was “D-Day”. Jesus beating death was the guarantee that the good v evil war would come to an end, with good winning. We haven’t seen that end yet, so we are between D-Day and victory day. But we know that evil is going to get got.
So how do we share this with kids?
Here is our plan, roughly…
- Have fun!
- Really, have fun being creative with all the Halloweeny things that get our son, his friends, our neighbours and, frankly, ourselves excited in a silly, spooky, sometimes scary, but always fun loving way. (I’ve already added dozens of new, fun Halloween songs this year to Fun Kids – listen on the 31st if you want the best family-friendly Halloween soundtrack!)
- Tell our son, and anyone else who asks why we’re doing all this monstrous malarkey, that we are celebrating, looking forward to the end of evil in the world.
- We’re also telling our son that we believe it’s Jesus who makes this possible. We’ll chat more about how when he’s ready and interested.
- For anyone who asks, we’ll share as much of our faith as they’re interested in too.
Here’s what we aren’t planning:
- Anything that isn’t fun.
- Anything that’s actually mean or evil, because our hope is in The Gospel, not “The Purge”.
- Anything other than a tummy ache, and maybe some leftover sweeties, to last past October 31st. The Halloween songs all come off the radio. The other bits get taken down. I don’t really mind if the pumpkins are chucked away, broken or rot over a longer time, but they won’t last. The point is, we’re celebrating evil’s decay and demise, and that’s a Very Good Thing!
I hope your Halloween goes well and ends well. Have fun!
Well said, Bern. I agree that there has been confusion and almost Cromwellian attitudes among Christians for years over Hallowe’en (note the apostrophe). I also agree with your points about the (almost) universal desire regarding life and death, the reality of ‘evil’ and it’s “demise”.
However, I also think that we miss something if we divorce October 31st from November 1st. All Saints day, I would submit, is meant to celebrate not just the contribution of ‘great’ saints of earlier years but all our forebears who have been involved to varying degrees in the Spiritual’ battle that Paul writes about in Ephesians.
I think Judaism can teach us much about how to think and act at this time of the year. Rosh Hashanah focuses on creation and the start of a new (agricultural) year but it leads into the ten days of personal reflection on how far we have helped and hindered the growth of God’s kingdom, culminating with Yom Kippur.
Yes, we need to celebrate the demise, eventually, of all the evidence of evil in our relationships with each other, with our environment and with God but we must also, reflecting on the examples of those who have ‘gone before’, determine to follow more closely, with God’s help, our Lord.
I’m sure a lot of Christians will be upset by what you have written but, as in so many other areas, God leads us to rethink our attitudes and actions with the passage of time. That is so obvious in the Bible yet many/most seem unable or unwilling to see it. Once again, thanks, Bern, for shedding light. Enjoy the evening with Noah et Al.
Thanks for your very thoughtful comment, Dave! I love the idea of reflecting and learning from people who have gone before and pointed the way towards the better life promised by Jesus. It would take a lot of energy and creativity to revive All Saints Day into a popular thing, but that’s a positive challenge for anyone who wants to try. I would love to hear from anyone who has had a go!
A very interesting, helpful and thought provoking essay. Thank you Bern. I would (naturally) perhaps be one of the Halloween poo-poo’ers but there is nothing here with which to disagree and so much with which to agree.