Celebrating Halloween: victory not defeat



Tomorrow evening many young and old(er) will be donning costumes for Halloween – some will be ghosts, witches, zombies or the like; others will be Super Mario, a Ninja Turtle or even Miley Cyrus. When one actually looks around at the way the vast majority of people ‘celebrate’ Halloween it can hardly be denied that Halloween – despite clear Christian origins – has become far more of a cultural event than a religious one. Nevertheless, there are plenty of arguments from both Muslims and Christians that get carted out to either prohibit or warn against a believers’ (Muslim or Christian) participation in the festivities.

That said, my own perspective as a Christian is that it may be helpful to make a distinction – albeit one that is slightly artificial and has only become legitimate in modern times[1] – between Halloween as the cultural holiday, and All Hallows’ Eve as the day preceding All Saint’s Day.

Despite popular thinking, the Christian origins of All Hallows’ Eve and All Saints’ Day have nothing to do with later adaptations complicated by the celebration of the Celtic New Year and other Neo-pagan practices on the same date.  All Saint’s Day was celebrated as early as the 4th century, and was fixed to November 1st and celebrated widely in the 8th century.[2] This date was reserved for the celebration of the victory of Christian saints in union with Christ; a reminder of Jesus’ decisive victory on the cross over Satan. So to dramatise that celebration, on October 31st the realms of darkness make one last advance on the Saints, but come the dawn the Saints know that victory awaits and all darkness will be defeated. It became tradition on All Hallows’ Eve to mock the darkness in the knowledge of promised light; donning masks as playful ridicule of Satan’s impending defeat.  In a quite brilliant lyrical narrative Glen Scrivener captures the heart of this:

Although I see nothing wrong with taking part in Halloween, my personal preference is to remind myself that October 31st is not just Halloween, it is also Reformation Day – the day that Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of Wittenberg Chapel. There was significance in that choice of day. The implicit statement was: Christ will have victory over the gross indulgences of the church; this darkness within the church will be confronted by the light.

I can’t speak on behalf of my Muslim friends, perhaps they would like to comment on the blog for themselves? Would you participate in Halloween’s ‘cultural’ aspects? Why or why not?

[1] As Halloween is simply a contraction of All Hallows’ Eve
[2] Langgärtner, Georg. “All Saints’ Day.” In The Encyclopedia of Christianity, edited by Erwin Fahlbusch and Geoffrey William Bromiley, 41. Vol. 1. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1999.

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