As image-bearers of God, we are inherently creative. This creativity shows up in adulthood as we problem-solve, but is vibrant in the imagination of a child. Mud pies, blanket forts, and spotting shapes in clouds all point back to a creative God who has given us a wild and fun imagination.
As adults, we still enjoy the fleeting opportunity to re-enter the world of make believe. We might tell children about a jolly old elf who brings a bag full of presents down a chimney, a bunny who lays chocolate eggs, a fairy who exchanges a lost tooth for change, and maybe even have a fantasy football team. But as Halloween approaches, we sense a tension—how do witches, fairies, ghosts and goblins fit into our creative imagination? Instead of running from the holiday or feeling guilty for indulging, I invite you and your family to both understand the origin of Halloween and to participate in a way that will use your imagination for a greater good.
A Short History
The origin of Halloween is a fascinating story. But first we need to rewind, travel back in time in order to invite the story to come to life. I invite you to read slow and imagine these moments in history.
Go back one thousand, seven hundred and fours year with me. We find ourselves in 313 A.D. This was a big year for Christians because two powerful Roman emperors—Constantine ruling the West and Licinius the East—met in Milan and determined religious freedom for Christians. The age of the martyrs was at an end! During these three hundred years, it had become common for Christians to gather together for a feast in honor of the great number of martyrs who were killed each year. There was no official date, and celebrations were scattered.
Four hundred years later, Pope Gregory IV regulated the date and invited people to remember the saints on November 1st. The evening before the holiday, which was October 31, was a time of preparation known as All Hallows Eve, literally meaning “holy evening”. The night was often marked with prayers, hymns, fasting, and the reading of various scriptures in preparation for the celebration of the faith of the saints and martyrs. It is interesting to note that important dates were often chosen to overlap with non-Christian celebrations in hopes that it would help bring people into the faith.
With that being said, this date was already an important date in England, Scotland, Whales, Ireland and Northern France as it marked the beginning of winter. The last day of Summer, October 31, was celebrated with the festival of Samhain (which literally means “summers end”). The ancient Celts believed that on this night, spirits looked for new bodies to inhabit in an effort to move on from Earth and attain the afterlife. What a terrifying thought! This frightened them too, so they made their personal appearance frightening and their homes undesirable hoping that these wandering ghouls would look for more desirable bodies to inhabit. This, of course, explains the origin of the first costumes, masks, and haunted houses.
Many of the Celts found the gospel message of Jesus to be the good news they had been longing for, and ancient folklore began to integrate with religious traditions. Specifically, All Hallows Eve shared similar themes with Samhain including the supernatural and the spirit world.
It is in this tension where we find ourselves today—a beautiful Christian holiday steeped in legend and cultural traditions. And it only becomes more complicated when we remember that on October 31, 1517, Martin Luther posted his Ninety-Five Thesis to the doors of the Wittenberg Castle church. By doing so, Luther knocked down the pillars supporting many practices in medieval Christianity and changed the world.
October 31 is richly steeped in Christian history!
The Good News
We have a message of hope to offer. The history of October 31 reminds us that it is a privilege to gather together and worship God freely—something I definitely take for granted. We are also reminded of the amazing Christians who have gone before us, including Martin Luther who sparked the Protestant Reformation.
But there is even greater news! Instead of feeling a paralyzing fear based on the possibility of spirits inhabiting us, we are invited into the message of the gospel: that the kingdom of heaven is presently invading the kingdom of darkness and the last enemy to be defeated will be death, the grimmest reaper of all. We believe in a God who is in complete control of the afterlife in the best possible way. The afterlife will have a place for the good and restored creation and also a place for all that is evil and in continued rebellion against God. There is freedom in this story!
In freedom comes cause for celebration! Halloween can become so much more than a holiday steeped in thousands of years of fear and superstition. It can become a day where we remember the history of the Christian church and also re-enter the world of make believe in order to develop our moral character at the same time.
Think about when you were a kid. Who did you really want to be? Maybe it was Batman, a character who overcame great hardship and chose to channel his negative emotions into positive actions for the good of others. Or maybe it was Wonder Woman—with her lasso of truth—inspiring kids and adults alike to be genuine and also love our planet. Or maybe you were very intrigued by the animal kingdom, and dreamed of being as fast as a cheetah or as cunning as a fox. These characters and creatures which you either loved or loathed offered powerful inspiration. Just like you, kids long to be an awesome version of themselves!
As you start to dream up costumes, make space to talk to your child about who they want to pretend to be and why. Encourage them to imagine themselves as that better version! For example, if your child dreams of being Spiderman, affirm that we all have unique talents and abilities that give us “power” and help your child find them, hone them, and use them. Invite kids to aspire to change the world and make it a better place!
And if your child is dead-set on wearing the scariest mask at the halloween store, I would encourage you not to fear. Instead, invite him or her to wear the costume with purpose, remembering the evil powers which Christ will ultimately defeat thanks to His courageous sacrifice.
As Halloween draws near, I invite you to have meaningful conversations about church history and create good memories which will further develop the moral imagination.
With an understanding of this history, I invite you to confidently say Happy Halloween!And, when the trick-or-treaters come to your door, I invite you to say Happy Halloween with deep conviction!