It isn’t always easy to tell Christian and pagan holidays apart. The Bible doesn’t tell us when Jesus was born, but we chose to celebrate his birth in late December in part because that is when the surrounding culture celebrated the rebirth of the sun after the winter solstice. In English, the word we use for our most important holiday, Resurrection Day, is Easter, a word of Germanic origin likely related to a pagan goddess of the dawn (hence “east”). Languages like French and Italian use more Christian – in fact, Jewish – language. Pâques or Pasqua are from the Hebrew term for Passover (Pesach).
Unlike Christmas, whose pagan date was piggy-backed by Christians, Halloween was a matter of pagans (or, at first, at least Christians acting like pagans!) piggy-backing a Christian holiday. Halloween, All Hallow’s Eve, happens the eve before All Hallow’s Day, or All Saint’s Day. On November 1st, Christians celebrate the lives of all those holy Christians who have gone before us, who interecede for us and give us an example of how to be Christ-like in the world. On November 2nd, All Soul’s Day, we pray for all who have gone before us and who are experiencing that purification of love that will make heaven truly heaven.
There is nothing wrong with dressing our kids up in costumes and having a bit of fun with our neighbours, whether or not they are Christians. In fact, the giving away of food is a great Christian practice! But Christians should be careful. Halloween can often be the occasion for more than just harmless fun. Damaging property or otherwise celebrating evil and giving ourselves over to it are not acceptable on this night any more than the rest of the year. We can even look out for greed and gluttony by teaching our kids to share their Halloween haul and ration it out over time. We can also be careful about the costumes we choose. Do they celebrate evil in any way? My wife has noticed how difficult it has become to buy a costume for a woman that is not oversexualized. A quick google search for women’s halloween costumes is eye-opening. Sometimes even little girl’s costumes cross the line. Other things to watch for include the glorification of violence, a casual disregard for human life, and the trivialization of the demonic.
But, aside from being careful about how we participate in Halloween activities, there is one other thing Christians can and should do. They should celebrate All Saint’s Day and All Soul’s Day with renewed appreciation. We can learn so much from the saints. Why not pick a biography of some saint to read in the month of November? And we should pray for those who have gone before us. It is an act of love and, like all acts of love, it brings both the giver and the receiver closer to God.
Brett Salkeld is a doctoral student in theology at Regis College in Toronto. He is a father of three (so far) and husband of one.