Take your pick. Three holidays converged last weekend. Protestants celebrate October 31st as the birthday of the Reformation, the day Luther nailed it! 95 statements of dispute on the Wittenberg Church door invited debate. If he only knew! On that night trick-or-treaters masquerade and collect candy. Halloween, short for All Hallows (read “Saints”) Eve, comes the night before All Saints’ Day, when the Church honors saints of history and remembers loved ones who died.
Why celebrate? Because the Church down through centuries found alternatives to the world’s festivals. The empty tomb receives more attention than the Easter bunny or Eastre, goddess of fertility (connected to the spring equinox?). We’ve taken a pagan name and baptized it. I can handle that. Some can’t.
At Christmas we focus on the Gift in the manger, the reason for gifts around the tree, rather than knocking pagans. And on All Saints’ Day we celebrate Christ’s victory over death rather than paying tribute to spooks and spirits.
The roots of Halloween antedate Christ’s birth. Ancient Druids in Europe believed that at the end of their year, October 31, Samhain, Lord of the dead, released the spirits of those who had died the previous year to return home and be entertained by the living. Those not treated well had tricks for the hosts. Sounds sinister to me. Halloween honored the spirits of the dead and ultimately Lucifer himself. No wonder Satanists enjoy Halloween. Ask the police! What better time to declare the victory of the Lamb rather than denouncing a holiday that flirts with demons, death and the devil!
All Saints’ Day reminds us that we are “surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses.” How that looks remains a mystery this side of death. Angels are aware of life here, so maybe friends on the other side could be as well. We know for sure they are passionately aware of the victim who is Victor. We take our stand with the saints in the faith Hall of Fame (Hebrews 11). We praise the victory of the cross with Daniel and Deborah, St. Augustine and St. Teresa, and with family and friends who have gone through death to endless life whom we will meet again. Halleluia!
The irony of Halloween is that evil spirits do influence the living. Life is not easy, death is not friendly, and we don’t sentimentalize it. Halloween makes light of darkness and the grave with pictures of cemeteries and dead people. How foolish and naive! Death is an uneasy subject for folks in any age. It is to our day what sex was to former generations. Bill Graham called it “the twentieth century pornography.” Rather than face it, we place it in a make-believe context. Christians confront it squarely on All Saints’ Day, weeping with those who have lost children in the womb, at birth, or in life, and rejoicing with all who have preceded us and won their reward. “O death where is your victory?” “Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!”