Redeeming Halloween

Every year at this time, I marvel at the irony in the annual “Christians v. Secularists” battle about naming and usage of holidays. The big two, of course, are Halloween and Christmas. Leave it to Evangelical Christianity to reject Halloween – an historically Christian holiday – and embrace Christmas, a pagan holiday co-opted by early Christian leaders. I just want to make a few comments in this regard.

First, Halloween. The name “Halloween” is derived from the phrase “All Hallows Eve”, which precedes November 1, All Hallows Day (or All Saints Day). This name dates back to the 16th century; All Hallows Eve can be found in records dating in 1556. Historically, on this day, the Church would have a feast to remember initially the martyrs, but the celebration was expanded to include the celebration of all the saints who had died. This celebration dates back to 609 B.C. and Pope Boniface IV.

The practice of Trick-or-Treating dates back to the Middle Ages, known as “guising,” where the poor would travel from home to home, asking for food in exchange for prayers for the dead. The threat of “trick-or-treat” calls back to Celtic tradition, where people would leave out treats to placate evil spirits. If a home didn’t provide a treat, it ran the risk of suffering the wrath of those spirits. Trick-or-treating first appeared in the U.S. in 1911, but rose to prominence in the 1950s.

I never heard this about Halloween until I was an adult. Even in my mid-twenties, I heard stories about the occult and witchcraft and the evils of Halloween. The church I was then attending held an annual “Harvest Party” (a pagan celebration indeed!) as an “alternative” to Halloween.

It’s a shame that this holiday – which I believe we should observe (in the traditional sense) – has been hijacked by us. There’s nothing evil about Halloween, and there’s nothing wrong with dressing up and celebrating the day. I’m a new father, and this year my six-month-old will be going Trick-or-Treating. I’m looking forward to the treats he receives. As he gets older, I intend to spend time with him teaching about the significance of the day, but encouraging him to enjoy the fun.