Note from Amy: We are posting a series of blogs on Allhallowtide, the 3-day season of remembering the dead that spans All Hallows Eve (Oct 31), All Saints (Nov 1), and All Souls (Nov 2). The first post comes from one of our small group leaders, resident theologian and all-around brilliant person Becky Keller.
It has come to my attention recently that there are a lot of people, Christians included, who believe some strange things about Halloween. Let’s clear up a few things about what Halloween is not:
Halloween is not a “pagan” holiday. You might have read about the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, which marked the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter. But almost nothing about this festival is recorded until the early modern period, so ties to ancient customs are tenuous at best. In any event, Samhain has absolutely nothing to do with Satanism, which would have been completely incompatible with the polytheism of the ancient Celts.
Halloween isn’t ruled by demonic spirits. At least, not any more than any other day. And celebrating Halloween does not leave one vulnerable to attacks from the powers of darkness. I mean, unless you’re doing some really weird stuff. But I’m pretty sure carving pumpkins and dressing up aren’t going to make you especially susceptible to demonic forces. In fact, I might argue that refusing to acknowledge one’s own mortality is a much more dangerous way to live.
Halloween is not Satan’s birthday. I don’t even know where to start with this one, except to say that angels don’t have birthdays!
It’s fitting, perhaps, that this spooky holiday should be shrouded in mystery. It seems likely, however, that Halloween developed according to the Christian custom of holding vigil the night before a significant feast day.
Halloween kicks off Allhallowtide, those liturgical days which are set apart for honoring the saints and remembering the dead. The autumnal season is appropriate for these themes, for those of us who live in the Northern Hemisphere. As the leaves change and fall, as the trees die their little deaths, as the calendar ticks off the final months of the dying year, I am frequently reminded of my own mortality and the inevitability of death. Existence is incredibly fragile. It is a good thing to be reminded of this. We ought to learn to pray with the psalmist, “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” (Psalm 90:12)
For me, though, Halloween is not only a reminder of death. It’s also an opportunity to poke fun at death. To stand defiant before the powers of darkness. To laugh with Christ in his victory, and to revel in the fact that He has trampled Hell and Satan under his feet.
I love medieval images of the Harrowing of Hell, and I think they’re a great illustration of what Halloween is all about for me. Check out this one, from the Morgan Library, MS M.43 fol. 23v:
Christ, cross-nimbed, bearing the scars of the crucifixion, stands on a bound and prostrate demon. He is grasping Adam’s hand, lifting him out of the flaming hell-mouth.
Halloween reminds me that we have nothing to fear from death, because Christ has gone before us. Christ has tamed all the beasts of Hell, so we need not fear things that go bump in the night.
- Becky Keller