Without fail, every October the battle over Halloween ensues, turning seemingly well-mannered Christian and Jewish families on edge and sending the Church into a frenzy of moral and ethical debates over Christian and pagan traditions. What must the God-fearing righteous family do to see these devils put to rest, once and for all?
Throw a feast!
Nothing resolves a Family Feud better than a Family Feast!
Much of the debate over Halloween stems from centuries of misunderstandings of Christian beliefs and traditions. Rather ironically, the lies are mostly fueled by well-meaning Christians and Jews attacking other well-meaning Christians and Jews. The debate over Halloween is more of a family feud over apologetics than a declaration against worldly dogma. That is why I am going to let a priest, a rabbi, and a holy man explain to you how this homeschooling mother of two and catholic wife got to celebrating Shabbat at Halloween. Seriously, if you keep reading, you may want to throw one too!
Just the Facts Ma’am, Nothing but the Facts
History matters! Learn history and study Church history and everything else makes sense. – Fr. Josh Johnson, Ascension Press
Here are the facts: (want the Cliff Notes version, skip the quotes and look for the bold Facts below.)
The early church disciples of the 3rd century, desiring to honor the Christian martyrs killed under the Emperor Diocletion (284-305), instituted the commemoration of the feast of All Saints. For instance in the East, the city of Edessa celebrated this feast on May 13; the Syrians, on the Friday after Easter; and the city of Antioch, on the first Sunday after Pentecost. Both St. Ephrem (d. 373) and St. John Chrysostom (d. 407) attest to this feast day in their preaching. In the East, a commemoration for all the saints also was celebrated on the first Sunday after Pentecost and continues to be celebrated in the Byzantine Tradition (Eastern Orthodox Churches) still today. It was not until the 7th century that the commemoration feast was instituted by Pope Gregory III to be universally celebrated on November 1st as All Saints Day by the Roman Tradition (Catholic Church). Debate over why the date was moved to Nov. 1 and not kept on May 13 or Pentecost is speculative but it’s no secret the early church sought to “baptize” the pagan rituals of Rome with the new life in the Spirit.
Fact: The feast of All Saints is a Christian tradition of the early church disciples to honor the dead and arose as an authentic genuine Christian devotion completely separate of pagan influence. This devotion stemmed from Jewish traditions of their time regarding prayer for the deceased and was the common belief of the newly baptized in Christ as early as the 1 century.
What does All Saints Day have to do with Halloween? Nothing and Everything. But only if you have a soul.
Now for the pagan connection: Fr. Saunders, dean of the Notre Dame Graduate School of Christendom College and pastor of Queen of Apostles Parish explains it best, “Nov. 1 marked Samhain, the beginning of the Celtic winter. (The Celts lived as early as 2,000 years ago in England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, and northern France.) Samhain, for whom the feast was named, was the Celtic lord of death, and his name literally meant “summer’s end.” Since winter is the season of cold, darkness and death, the Celts soon made the connection with human death. The eve of Samhain, Oct. 31, was a time of Celtic pagan sacrifice, and Samhain allowed the souls of the dead to return to their earthly homes that evening. Ghosts, witches, goblins, and elves came to harm the people, particularly those who had inflicted harm on them in this life. Cats too were considered sacred because they had once been human beings who had been changed as a punishment for their evil deeds on this earth. To protect themselves from marauding evil spirits on the eve of Samhain, the people extinguished their hearth fires and the Druids (the priests and spiritual teachers of the Celts) built a huge new years bonfire of sacred oak branches. The Druids offered burnt sacrifices-crops, animals, even humans and told fortunes of the coming year by examining the burned remains. People sometimes wore costumes of animal heads and skins. From this new fire, the home hearths were again ignited.
“In Ireland, people held a parade in honor of Muck Olla, a god. They followed a leader dressed in a white robe with a mask from the head of an animal, and begged for food. (Ireland is also the source of the jack-o’lantern fable: A man named Jack was not able to enter heaven because of his miserliness and he could not enter hell because he played practical jokes on the devil; so he was condemned to walk the earth with his lantern until Judgment Day.) The Scots walked through fields and villages carrying torches and lit bonfires to ward off witches and other evil spirits In Wales, every person placed a marked stone in the huge bonfire. If a person’s stone could not be found the next morning, he would die within a year.
“Besides the Celtic traditions in place, the Roman conquest of Britain in AD 43 brought two other pagan feasts: Feralia was held in late October to honor the dead. Another Autumn festival honored Pomona, the goddess of fruits and trees; probably through this festival, apples became associated with Halloween. Elements of these Roman celebrations were combined with the Celtic Samhain. With the spread of Christianity and the establishment of All Saints Day on November 1st, some of these pagan customs remained in the English speaking world for All Hallows Eve (or Halloween, All Saints Eve), perhaps at first more out of superstition’ and later, more out of fun.”
Fact: The Celtic people lived on an island apart from the influences of Roman culture and religion until the Roman invasion of Briton in 43 AD. Christianity was not an accepted practice in Rome until 313 AD. Both Celtic and Roman pagan traditions prove the innate ability of man to sense the invisible spiritual realms and to honor the memory of the dead through traditions of keeping remembrance, even apart from the Christian and Jewish beliefs transcending at the time.
If there is a counterfeit, there is an authentic that we need to find and reclaim. – Bill Johnson, Pastor, Bethel Church
Now, let Rabbi Tzvi Freeman tell you about a wonderful Jewish holiday: “once a year, our children dress up as sages, princesses, heroes and clowns. They drop by the homes of our community, visit the infirm and the aged, spreading joy and laughter. They bring gifts of food and drink and collect tzedakah (charity) for the needy.
“You guessed it—it’s called Purim, when it’s customary to send mishloach manot–gifts of food—to one’s friends and even more gifts to those in hard times.
“Flip it over (October instead of March, demanding instead of giving, scaring instead of rejoicing, demons instead of sages, etc.) and you have Halloween. There you have it: a choice of one of two messages you can give to your children. I call that a choice, because one of the beautiful things about kids is that, unlike adults, they don’t do too well receiving two conflicting messages at once.”
Great point Rabbi! So maybe we need to get better at sending out a clearer message.
Fact: History shows us that mankind has an innate desire to reveal the invisible in the visible. It’s search for Truth manifests widely across cultures, continents and religions but it’s evident there is one thing we all can agree on: we all have a soul and death brings an afterlife.
The human condition is to search out what’s next. By placing All Saints Day on the day of the pagan holidays (and All Souls Day to follow), our Christian fathers of the Faith invite us into the beautiful juxtaposition of one of the Great Paradoxes of Life. In a matter of just three days (Hallow Tide), a soul glimpses the great mysteries of Life: Death, Redemption, and Resurrection.
If you believe in ghosts and demons and things that frighten you, then there’s no way you can be an Atheist. Halloween reminds us there is another side to fear – that is Love, angels and a Holy Ghost!
“If there is a counterfeit, there is an authentic that we need to find and reclaim. Every time we see a masquerade, we need to look closely to properly discern what is being counterfeited, because a counterfeit is evidence that an authentic exists. The devil cannot create anything new, he can only distort what God has already created.” – Bill Johnson, Pastor Bethel Church Redding, California, The Physics of Heaven
Treat or Trick?
Halloween or Reformation Day? Should we avoid Christmas too?
Fun fact, Martin Luther nailed those “95 Theses” to the door of Wittenberg Castle church on October 31, 1517. The actual title of his work a “Disputation on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences” was deliberately nailed by the German priest on this specific date (Oct. 31) to the wooden doors of the church, like a nail to a coffin. Proposed as an article of debate, Luther’s contention with the power of indulgences hit the nail on the head. Nearly, 13 centuries later, the church found herself in conflict with its baptismal mission. Where the Fathers of Faith had called us to enter into the Great Paradox of Life, the Church was shrinking back from its destiny to lead souls into new life. The church is called to be holy as Christ is holy and to sanctify the world through his baptismal graces.
Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.- Matthew 28:19-20
What Luther did that day with full intention was to arrest the church to her own behavior. Would she continue to do as the pagans did, carrying on in their rituals or would she lay claim to her baptismal promise to renew the earth by the power of the Holy Spirit and reclaim the kingdom of God? We didn’t seem to have a problem reforming Christmas at December 25th so why is it so hard for the church to reform Halloween? Five centuries later, many Christians are asking the same question.
Perhaps the warfare many Christians sense on October 31st has less to do with the demons who are mocked at Halloween by costumes and candy and more to do with the residue of division in the church that was wrought from the nail on the door in 1517. What Luther meant for debate, the devil used to divide. The battle over reforming Halloween is not going to be won by dividing opinions, it will be won by unifying hearts. And, so it will be for the church.
Which leads me to why this homeschooling mother and catholic wife celebrates Shabbat at Halloween…
Be not deceived; God is not mocked
“The best way to drive out the devil, if he will not yield to texts of Scripture, is to jeer and flout him, for he cannot bear scorn. The proud spirit cannot endure to be mocked.” – Martin Luther
Ironically, history attributes the mockery we see at Halloween to Luther himself. After all, what more perfect form of mockery could there be than the spectacle of modern Halloween traditions? Christ gets the majesty of the cross and the title Redeemer of All Souls while the devil gets costumes and candy. The tradition of begging for candy, a homage to Luther’s last line in his theses, “We are beggars, this is true!”
But as Fr. Josh Johnson points out (you can listen to his full podcast here), there’s more to Halloween than making a mockery of the devil. If the church will simply focus on her baptismal promise to make disciples of all nations, she would see it had been within her power all along to cleanse the pagan rituals of the past with the healing waters of her baptism. Just as a soul is transformed from death into life by the baptism of the Spirit of God, the church must transform the world, reclaiming what was always God’s and seeing it renewed and restored into its fullest promise.
True reformation comes not by separating itself from others but by transforming the whole loaf. Jesus ate with sinners not just saints.
The heart of Halloween, pagan or otherwise, is the state of souls. At the very least, it is a reminder to our children that death comes for all, saints and sinners alike. And if we are being the church Christ called us to be then Halloween should become a signpost to all those searching for Truth. A sign like the pagans saw, that the after-death might be ghoulish and frightening to souls who have not found rest in Christ. A sign like Purim, that charity and goodnesss, giving treats and blessings, inspiring each other to community and gathering, joy and laughter, hopes and dreaming of being like saints is available to all souls that seek it. A sign like All Saints, that Christ calls each of us to cast off death and embrace new life, new vision, new hopes, new dreams, and to become like him, holy. A sign that we’re all Souls called to be Saints from a world of Sinners.
The three days of Hallow Tide are more than just hocus-pocus, they’re a foreshadow of the three days that changed the world just 6 months later.
This is why I gather my children and family in to Shabbat feast at Halloween, dressed like super-heroes and fantastical saints and creatures of heaven, to remind us all that there is a Heaven and we have a soul that will get to go there if we “make the right choice between two seemingly conflicting messages.”
And, after we dine and fill ourselves up with the blessings of God, keeping remembrance of all His soul-saving wonders, transcending time and space beyond our traditions, we go out into the world, amidst the ghouls and the goblins, the frightening sounds, the demons howls, and my children learn to move past them, to overcome their fears and risk the jeers and all the taunts to ring the doorbells of neighbors and encounter the haunts and their blessings – they discern the tricks from the treats. Who else is equipped to teach them if not their Mother?
They become the light in the world and the darkness secretly reveres them because it knows next year there will be more like them in the world, simply because they aren’t going home to hide it under a bushel, they aren’t afraid to shine.
This is the #1 Reason Why I celebrate at Halloween: It is our baptismal calling to be Salt & Light, it is our hope of Christ’s promise, that the Light would overcome the dark. I do it for my children and the hope of the world to come. I choose to reflect Christ’s Light in all circumstances. I become the Shamar – I become Messiah’s Light.
If Christ can descend into hell for three days, surely the church can survive these three, from Halloween to All Souls Day with All Saints in between (Oct. 31 – Nov. 2). Christ in us is the key!
You don’t have to mock the devil to change the world, try lighting the Shabbat candle in your own home, then bring the bread of blessing into the world. Next week, the world will be at your door simply because it is hungry for more and you can send their devils home with a soul full of peace, it’s what’s for dinner! Throw a feast – Shabbat Shalom.
Depending on which side of eternity you have more faith in, Halloween can be Holy or it could be horrific – Let’s Keep it Holy!