A Christian Holiday
an essay in the public domain
The soul declares that it was disguised because in the ascent through faith its garments, apparel, and capacities were changed from natural to divine. On account of this disguise, neither temporal nor rational things nor the Devil recognized or detained it. None of these can do harm to the one who walks in faith.
The soul’s advance, moreover, was so concealed, hidden, and withdrawn from all the wiles of the Devil that it indeed involved darkness and concealment. That is, the soul was hidden from the Devil, to whom the light of faith is worse than darkness. We can say as a result that a person who walks in faith walks concealed and hidden from the Devil.
John of the Cross, Ascent of Mount Carmel, Bk 2
The word ‘Halloween’ is a contraction for All Hallow’s Eve (Hallow-Even > Hallow-E’en > Hallowe’en). The word ‘hallow’ means ‘saint,’ in that ‘hallow’ is an alternative form of the word ‘holy’ (‘hallowed be Thy Name’). All Saints Day is November 1st. It is the celebration of the victory of all saints, or Believers, in union with Christ. The observance of various celebrations of All Saints arose in the late 300s, and these were united and fixed on November 1st in the late 700s. The origin of All Saints Day and All Saints Eve in Mediterranean Christianity had nothing to do with European druidry or a Christian fight against the heathen witchcraft religion of druidry.
In the First Covenant, the war between God’s people and God’s enemies was fought on the human level against Egyptians, Assyrians, et al. With the coming of the New Covenant, however, we are taught that our battle is against principalities and powers, against rulers of the darkness of this world who bind the hearts and minds of men in ignorance and fear. We are assured that through faith, prayer, and obedience, all saints will be victorious in battle against these unclean forces. The Spirit assures us: ‘The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.’ (Romans 16:20, RSV).
The Festival of All Saints reminds us that though Jesus has finished His work, we have not finished ours. He has struck the decisive blow and he reigns, but we have the privilege of assisting him to defeat all of his enemies. Thus, century by century, true Christians have rolled back the satanic realm of the dread of death, ignorance, fear, and superstition.
In line with Jewish tradition, the Biblical day begins in the preceding evening, and thus in the Church calendar, the eve of a day is the actual beginning of the festive day. Christmas Eve is most familiar to us, but there is also the Vigil of Holy Saturday that precedes Easter Morn. Similarly, All Saints Eve (Halloween) precedes All Saints Day.
The concept, as dramatized in Christian custom, is quite simple: on October 31st, the satanic realm (literally, ‘accusing realm’) tries one last time to achieve victory, but is banished by the joy and power of the Kingdom.
What, then, is the means by which the unclean realm is vanquished? In a word: mockery. The Accuser’s great sin (and our great sin) is pride and assertion of self (which is rebellion and witchcraft). Thus, to drive Satan (literally, ‘Accuser’) from us, we ridicule him. This is why the custom arose of portraying Satan in a ridiculous red suit, horns, a tail, goat feet, and a pitchfork. Nobody thinks Satan really looks like this. The idea is to ridicule him because he has lost the battle with Jesus and he no longer has power over us. Our fallen nature, our accusing nature, no longer has power over us.
The gargoyles that were placed on the churches of old had the same meaning. They symbolized Christianity ridiculing the enemy. They stick out their tongues and make faces at the principalities and powers who would assault the saints. Gargoyles are not satanic; they are Believers who ridicule the defeated army of darkness. Thus, the defeat of evil and of unclean powers is strongly associated with Halloween.
On All Hallows Eve, the custom arose of mocking the satanic realm by dressing children in costumes. Because the power of Satan, the Accuser, has been broken once and for all, our children can mock him by dressing up like ghosts, goblins, and even witches. The fact that we can dress our children this way shows our supreme confidence in the utter defeat of Satan by Jesus the Christ—we have no fear!
‘Trick or Treat’ originated simply enough: something fun for children to do. As with anything else, this custom can be perverted, and there are occasions when ‘tricking’ involves mean actions against others, and therefore is banned from some localities. We can hardly object, however, to children collecting candy from friends and neighbors. This might not mean much to us today, because many of us are so prosperous that we have candy whenever we want it. But in earlier generations people were not so well off, and obtaining candy or other treats was special. There is no reason to pour cold water on an innocent custom like this. Similarly, the origin of the jack-o-lantern is unknown, though there is one legend of a sinner who was so bad he was rejected from Hell by Satan himself, and so was given a light so he could see his way through the darkness until Judgment Day. That story aside, to hollow out a gourd or some other vegetable, carve a face, and put a lamp inside it is something that has likely occurred independently to tens of thousands of ordinary people in hundreds of cultures worldwide over the centuries. Since people once commonly lit their homes with candles, decorating those candles and their candle-holders was a routine part of life designed to make the home attractive or interesting. Potatoes, turnips, beets, and any number of other items were used. In the ‘New World,’ people soon learned that pumpkins were admirably suited for this purpose. The jack-o-lantern is nothing but a decoration; and the leftover pumpkin can be scraped again, roasted, and turned into pies and muffins.
In some ancient cultures, what we call a ‘jack-o-lantern’ represented the face of a dead person whose soul continued to have a presence in the fruit or vegetable used. But this has no particular relevance to Halloween customs. Did your mother tell you, while she carved the pumpkin, that this represented the head of a dead person with his soul trapped inside? Of course not. Symbols and decorations, like words, mean different things in different cultures, in different languages, and in different periods of history. The only relevant question is What does it mean now?—and nowadays, like the Tannenbaum (Christmas Tree and, literally, ‘Fir Tree’) that once symbolized the pre-Christian concept of the World Yew, the jack-o-lantern is only a decoration. And even if some earlier generation did associate this elaborate lantern with a soul in a head, so what? They did not take it seriously. It is only part of the mockery of Satan and his defeated legions by Christian people.
This is a good place to note that many articles in books, magazines, and encyclopedias are written by unbelievers. These people actively suppress Christian associations with historic customs, and try to magnify secular associations. They do this to try to make their reconstructed ideas of pre-Christian religions (Ásatrú, Wicca, neo-Druidry, et al) acceptable while downplaying Christianity (which is shown by them to be the cause of all strife in the world, an age-old false argument repackaged for the present day). Thus, Halloween, Christmas, Easter, etc. are said to have pre-Christian origins. Not true, and this for the simple fact that Christianity predates all world religions since it was begun by the Logos (Jesus) who was ‘in the beginning’ (St. John 1:1). Oddly, many fundamentalist Christians have been influenced by these slanted views of history. These fundamentalists do not accept the secular rewriting of Western history, American history, and science, but in many cases they do accept the humanist rewriting of the origins of Halloween and Christmas, the Christmas Tree, etc. We can hope that in time these brethren will reexamine these matters as well. We ought not to let secular humanists do our thinking for us.
Today, children often dress up as superheroes, the original Christian meaning of Halloween being absorbed into popular culture. Also, with the present fad of ‘designer paganism’ in the so-called ‘New Age Movement,’ many Christians are uneasy with dressing their children as spooks. So be it. But we should not forget that originally Halloween was a Christian custom, and there is no solid reason why Christians cannot enjoy it as such.
‘He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord has them in derision,’ says Psalm 2 (RSV). Let us join in His holy laughter and mock the enemies of Christ on October 31.