As we approach the end of October and the celebration of Halloween, I felt the need to talk a little about the connection between the church and Halloween.
In Romans 1:7 Paul addresses the Christians in Rome by saying, “To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints.” In Philippians 1:1 he says, “To all the saints in Christ Jesus at Philippi.” The Greek word for “saint” can also be defined as “holiness.” Since Christians have been declared holy or righteous by God, all Christians are saints.
During the eighth century the Church established a special day for the feast of All Saints or All Saints Day. The evening before became known as All Hallows Eve. The celebration of All Saints was intended to give honor to those Christians who had preceded the living in death. Originally All Hallows Eve was solemn and without any merriment. It was believed that on this night departed souls were liberated from Purgatory and were allowed to return to their earthly homes. Eventually, in Ireland, Scotland and England the religious celebration was joined with a secular celebration of Ireland and prayer was combined with merriment. Beggars (today called Trick or Treaters) would go from door to door begging for “soul cakes.” In return they promised to pray for the dead of the household. Soul cakes were a shortbread like small cake and could be very fancy. Legend, or maybe a true story, tells of a cook who decided to make a soul cake that would remind everyone about eternity. She cut a hole in the middle of the small cake and dropped it in hot fat and we have a doughnut. Circle that it is, a doughnut can remind us of the never ending time of eternity.
The beggars would sing at every one’s door something like, “a soul cake, a soul cake, have mercy on all Christian souls for a soul cake.” Eventually the singing gave way to charades and drama. The message was to warn the living that they needed to listen to Jesus and take the steps needed for salvation before it was too late. Goblins and witches with cats, which were ancient symbols of the devil, appeared as a symbol for keeping track of spirits that had been released from hell. The goblins and witches were supposed to make sure that the visitors from hell returned at sunlight.
I have heard many Christians say that Halloween should be outlawed or at least that Christians should stop participating. I would like to suggest an alternative. Instead of candy use soul cakes and gather together for prayer and remembrance of those who have lived before us. Use doughnuts as soul cakes, and perhaps have a doughnut making party and discuss “what eternity means to me.” Costumes could be of those people that we find in the Bible. Instead of throwing Halloween out, I believe that it would be much better to return to the reasons for which Halloween (All Hallows Eve) was started followed by the celebration of All Saints Day on November 1.