For today’s article, I researched the background of Halloween and All Saints Day. After spending about an hour online, I found myself enjoying the research more than anything else because reading about these two holidays was like following Alice into that mysterious rabbit hole. I just did not know where I was going to end up.
It did not take long, however, before I discovered one simple truth about October 31: Halloween is a time in which various religious traditions clash within a cultural quagmire of superstition and the sacred. Allow me to explain.
Halloween is an ancient pagan holiday rooted in Celtic sects of Ireland. It includes all of the superstitious beliefs for which Halloween is known, in particular the visitation by ghosts, spirits, the (un)dead, and the like on humanity’s earthly realm. In the words of at least one online documentary, it was a time in which the season of life met the season of death.
The holiday also included celebrations for the summer harvest. Since the days turned darker around autumn, the Celts celebrated their reaping, stored their foodstuffs, and enacted religious rites to prepare for the upcoming winter months. Halloween was a way of protecting these ancient tribesmen from that which haunted them in their darkest hour, namely famine or freezing or both. They lit bonfires (now we light jack-o-lanterns) to ward off the dark and adorned costumes in order to fool evil spirits. Creepy stuff for sure.
When the Catholic Church stumbled upon Halloween in the fourth century, the Church found many of those Celtic practices unacceptable for obvious reasons. Pope Boniface IV stripped the holiday of all its pagan practices (the Catholic Church did the same to Saturnalia for Christmas and Eoaster for Easter) and replaced it with All Saint’s Eve. To this day, Christians celebrate All Saint’s Day on November 1.
That’s a long story made short, but there’s more.
Protestant Reformers in Germany came along, many of whom preferred neither Halloween nor All Saints Day. Instead, they made October 31 Reformation Day.
Since many people in the United States are not willing to worship on October 31 because of all the Halloween hype, many churches simply dedicate the Sunday before Halloween as Reformation Sunday.
When I was in Decatur last Sunday, I worshipped with a Lutheran pastor who led us in singing Martin Luther’s “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” just for the occasion.
Suffice it to say, October 31 is a day in which many faith traditions intersect. Whether you’re a Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, or Protestant, we all hold something in common today: it is a time to remember the heroes and heroines of our faith. You may choose to remember the pillars of the Church—Martin Luther, St. Patrick, or Mother Teresa to name a few. Or you can choose to remember someone more personal: Grandma and Grandpa whose faith sparked your own belief in Jesus or your old youth pastor who might have been a catalyst for your salvation.
There is nothing inherently wrong with remembering and celebrating the lives of our saints. Even God is big on remembering the ancients; in the Old Testament He declared repeatedly that He is “the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.”
You may call today what you will—Halloween, All Saint’s Eve, Reformation Day, or just another lazy Saturday—but at least be sure to thank God for giving us saints whom we can remember, admire, and cherish in our hearts.