Halloween has never been at the top of my favorite holiday list. While our neighbors love donning bushes with cobwebs and decorating their lawns like a cemetery, our porch is brimming with pumpkins, mums, and friendly scarecrows. And forget scary movies… give me a rom-com or Hallmark movie any day of the week. Yup, you can say that Halloween ranks as my least favorite holiday of the year… that is until I started to learn more about the history of this holiday. Come to find out, instead of horror and haunts, Halloween has a history of holy HOPE.
For all you literacy buffs out there, when you break down Halloween, you get hallow-een… you’re welcome. Joking aside, Hallow-een comes from Hallow-eve, officially known on the church calendar as All Hallow’s Eve. October 31st is the evening before All Saints’ Day when the church remembers all the men and women who have modeled holiness throughout the church’s history. All Hallow’s Eve marks the evening when the church anticipates this holy time, honoring friends, family, and heroic saints who are now part of the cloud of witnesses cheering us on from heaven. For me, this puts a holy new perspective on Hallow-een.
If you are thirsty for more literature lessons, I have some more in store. Hallow is defined as a holy person (a saint) while hallowed means to be made holy. So how in the world did witches and ghouls become associated with this holy time of the church year? Digging into history, the roots related to the transition from October to November could be tied to the Celtic festival called Samhain. Samhain marked the end of the harvest season. During the time between October 31-November 1, the Celts believed that the boundary between the dead and living thinned, causing the dead to seek hospitality with the living. The Celts believed if the dead were not appeased, they would destroy livestock and crops, causing sickness and famine. Therefore, the Gaels would don costumes, light bonfires, and imitate sorcery to placate evil spirits.
Transitioning from the pagan roots of Samhain to a holy focus, in 835, the church set November 1 as All Saints’ Day. While October 31 is historically associated with horror and the haunted, the church chose to focus on the holy with HOPE… the HOPEful watching, waiting, and celebration of God’s hallowed saints. Unfortunately, with the passing of time and church becoming less of a priority, All Hallow’s Eve focus returned to the evil tones that, ironically, had inspired the roots of this holy time on the church calendar. What was ancient is current and what was dated is now imbedded in the minds of present generations.
What appears HOPEless can become HOPEful with education and the adoption of new traditions. There is no rule stating that we can’t get back to the church roots tied to this historic holy day (also known as… holiday… yet another lit lesson). We can infuse HOPE into Halloween by teaching the next generation the history of All Hallow’s Eve and All Saints’ Day. Encourage your church to hold an All Hallow’s Eve service if it doesn’t have one on their calendar already. Get involved with youth group events, offering to teach the historical background of this holy period while incorporating arts and crafts, games, and snacks that reinforce the history of this holy time. Encourage your children to research saints and dress up as their favorite holy peep while trick or treating. Replace the “trick or treat” greeting with “teach or treats” while sharing handouts about All Saints’ Day with the homes your children visit on All Hallow’s Eve. End the evening with a family or neighborhood bonfire, sharing historical facts about Halloween while warming up and enjoying s’mores (short for “saint mores”). 😉
All these ideas and more will ensure Halloween becomes less about darkness and evil and more about holy HOPE, focusing on those who came before us modeling lives filled with HOPEful holiness. Yes, there are ways to restore the history of this holiday while growing as a family… a family that shines its light in a dark world. A family bringing a bit of HOPE and holiness to a world that certainly needs a whole holy bunch of it. Bring on the teach and treats… your corner of the world will be a better place… a place filled with Hallowed HOPE.