I grew up in a fundamentalist church that was against almost everything. We could not wear shorts, even in 100 degree weather. We could not listen to any secular music, and even contemporary Christian music was clearly frowned upon. Even in elementary school, you were shamed if you used any other version of the Bible but the King James Version.
I am very thankful for the way many of those people in that church loved me and helped me learn about Jesus, I agree with much of what I was taught; especially when it comes to the authority of Scripture, and salvation coming through faith in Christ Jesus. But, sometimes, with all their good intentions, their zeal for holiness led them to be narrower in their beliefs that the Bible merited. One of these situations was related to the practice of Halloween.
The actual holiday of Halloween was instituted by the early church. Much like the Easter season and the Christmas season, Halloween had pre–Christian roots based on seasons and the calendar. But as it came to be defined, Halloween came to be about how God worked through people that had died before. Halloween is the eve of All Saints Day, which is immediately followed by All Souls Day. It is a season to remember the ones that have come before us and the battles that they have come through. It was not until the witch hunts that people began to associate Halloween with witchcraft and Satanism. These witch hunts that were often politically expedient, and often found later to be founded on unreliable rumor.
But what about all that dressing up, especially like ghosts and devils and such? Isn’t that celebrating evil? I suppose some people could look at it like that, but other people, like myself, can turn that concept on its head. In many ways dressing up as something on a day like Halloween has as much to do with mocking something as celebrating it. When people dress up and caricature political candidates or those in power, it is rarely because they support them. It is an act of civil disobedience. On Halloween, it is like saying that in Christ, the powers of evil don’t have any power over me that I do not give them. That is a good thing.
The early practice of trick or treating had the function of feeding the poor as winter approached and at the same time, asking those people to pray for those they were grieving. These poor people were given “soul cakes,” and they did not do tricks if they did not get anything. Although, people were sometimes afraid of what may happen to them if they failed to live out God’s command to give to the poor. The tradition of Halloween waned for several centuries, but came to full force in America when immigrants brought the holiday with them from the old countries the moved from.
Much like Mardi Gras before lent, the day before Halloween became known as Mischief Day. People were playing all sorts of pranks, low-income youth were getting into all sorts of trouble, and something needed to be done. So, the Boy Scouts came to the rescue. Early in their history, the Boy Scouts got communities to support these youth
though establishing the practice of trick or treating. The youth got the opportunity to dress up, and get candy. The community got to love on and support their children, and have an activity that kept them out of trouble.
Now a lot of us have different feelings about trick or treating. And today, much more than even when I was a kid, safety can be a huge concern as kids wander door to door. So many of us celebrate the season with harvest festivals, or have parties where kids are not out on the street. That is great, and many of these things have the same benefit of the celebrations of old.
As far as our attitudes go, however, let us celebrate Halloween in the spirit of Pope Gregory who instituted it. Let us redeem the day for what is good about it. Even if part of the holiday offends you, celebrate the pro-Christian, pro-compassion, pro-community, griever-friendly, pro-generosity part of this holiday that so many enjoy. Take the opportunity to carry out the golden rule, and love your neighbor and their children with a kind, full, unjudging heart.