October is a glorious month. Among its features are playoff baseball, football season at full throttle, white girls dressing like Han Solo and ordering trash from Starbucks, men wearing flannel, leaves changing color, German beer, and Evangelicals freaking out over Halloween.
And whether it’s an invented quote by Anton Levay about Christians letting their children worship Satan once a year, the well intentioned Fall Festival/trunk or treat held on church grounds, or the supposed pagan roots of the holiday, I’d like to go about the process of reclaiming Halloween for Protestantism.
Something about those who don’t know history
There is truly only one objection that Evangelicals present against Halloween, and that regards its supposed pagan or otherwise satanic nature. That argument is that because there may be the occasional similarity with something like the Celtic festival of Samhain – which is likely anachronistic and not even accurate – then it must jettisoned.
And what if I told you that the true roots were at least more innocuous or even more glorious?
The truth is that feasts in honor of particular martyrs started being held at least as early as the 300s and probably even earlier than that. A problem quickly developed, however, in that there were quickly more martyrs to be celebrated than days available on the calendar, so the church condensed the celebration into one day in the 600s as All Hallows’ Day. The three consecutive days of All Hallows’ Eve, All Hallows’ Day, and All Souls’ Day came about in the next hundred years or so.
Yes, Roman Catholic superstition creeped in over the centuries, including prayers for the dead and other such nonsense, but the real root of the matter was a feast unto the Lord in honor of the church triumphant with an eye looking forward to the resurrection on the last day.
The same is true of Halloween and its associated traditions. Depending on who you ask, some started dressing in costumes of dead nobility, reminding themselves that death is indeed the wages of sin. Others say that costumes developed in holy mockery of Satan and his minions, as they understood that the serpent’s head was already crushed and that death had lost its sting. Of course, superstition creeped in here as well, but we’re often guilty of what CS Lewis called chronological snobbery, thinking ourselves more intelligent than our forebears because they believed something silly, but we’re not here to call out the Boston Children’s Hospital for anything that our descendents will find repugnant.
The unneeded retreat
The tremendous irony about Halloween is that Christians use the same argument on each other that some unbelievers use on Christians regarding Christmas and Easter. It’s literally no different than claiming Christmas and Easter were really Saturnalia and Eostre. Ergo, so goes the argument, Christmas, Easter, and Halloween are actually cheap Christian imitations and our entire faith is a myth that simply adapted the story of Horus to some Jewish rabbi.
But we who 1) have actually read our Bibles and 2) know the smallest piece of church history know these claims to be absurd. The origins of Christmas trees and Easter eggs and Halloween costumes are Christian, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
In truth, Halloween has been corrupted for the same reason that Christmas has become about tacky lights and a mythical fat man fulfilling every child’s hope in the prosperity gospel. The church gave up on it. For the last hundred-plus years, the church has allowed the world to infiltrate and steal our holiday while keeping the name, leading to screachy yet accurate declarations of Christ’s birth being the “reason for the season.”
But the same reason for the season is true of Halloween. Remember, Halloween is ultimately about the church triumphant, which only became triumphant in the power of the Spirit through faith in the finished work of the crucified and resurrected Christ.
A Protestant Halloween proposal
First, I am under no delusions that this proposal will be taken up and made into a federal holiday anytime soon. I will also make a quick disclaimer that this is not to bind the conscience of any Christian one way or another. We are not to judge based on whether someone decides to celebrate a holiday (Col. 2:16), but we also must recognize that Jesus celebrated Hanukkah, which was not prescribed by God in the Torah (John 10:22-23). He did that in freedom and was not bound, just like the Christian is not forced to celebrate Christmas or Easter.
With that premise, I present my Protestant Hallowtide proposal.
First, we keep Halloween and its general festivities of costumes, candy, and the like, but we primarily orient them toward a celebration of the Reformation and Luther posting the 95 Theses. We would celebrate the recovery of the Gospel of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.
Halloween would truly be an All Hallows’ Eve, and could involve a Psalm 2 style mockery of the serpent’s crushed head as well as holy mockery of the Pope and his ilk. Of course, this would not include things such as grotesque costumes or off-color jokes about Mary, and we may need to avoid costumes reminding ourselves of our mortality like those possible original Halloween costumes until we actually learn how to think about death properly again. And before I’m accused of not acting like Jesus, remember that this is light compared to what Jesus has already done to Satan in his triumph (Col. 2:15).
The tradition of handing out unseemly amounts of candy as a reminder of the sweetness of God’s grace would, of course, remain intact (Ps. 19:10). And all the dentists said, “Amen.”
The next day, Nov. 1, would then be a day of feasting to the Lord in remembrance of all those who have died in Christ – truly all the saints – and tales would be told from church history, Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, and of departed loved ones. The feast would then conclude with reading 1 Corinthians 15 and our great gospel hope of the bodily resurrection on the last day and the consummation of Christ’s kingdom.
What this would result in is an extension of the American holiday season, which currently begins with Thanksgiving and ends with the New Year. We would have an opportunity to go from Halloween as distinctly Christian through the New Year in a new rhythm of celebrating Christ’s gifts in the resurrection, his provision, his birth, and his allowing us to survive another cycle around the sun, all in Christian liberty to God’s glory and his people’s joy.
Feel free to comment on my respective social media posts with your thoughts and suggestions.