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Halloween – good or evil?

October 27, 2008

by Rev. Bill Hillyer, Saving Grace Lutheran Church, Delano

This Friday, most Americans will celebrate one of their favorite holidays with parties, costumes, and a lot of candy! That’s how most Americans see the celebration of Halloween.

But, others see a very dark side to the evening’s festivities (and I’m not talking about the more than $2 billion that Americans spend on candy for this holiday). Many people are convinced that Halloween is a night reserved for evil and evil doings.

So, what is a parent to do? Just what is Halloween, where did it come from, and should we celebrate it?

To be sure, the origins of Halloween have an ominous beginning. It is rooted in the ancient Celtic feast of Samhain. The ancient Druids believed that on the eve of Samhain, the veil between the physical world and the spiritual world was temporarily set aside, allowing demons, witches, and hobgoblins to harass the living.

In order to protect themselves from these evil spirits, people would dress themselves up to look like witches, devils, and ghouls in an to attempt to ward off the evil. They would also carve grotesque-looking faces on gourds illuminated with candles, and they would try to placate the spirits with a variety of treats.

Now, this certainly doesn’t sound like something I would want to celebrate! However, as Ireland and Britain were Christianized, the early Christians came up with a wonderful way to replace the attention on evil spirits, and honor the saints of the faith instead.

Oftentimes throughout history, the church would move events around on their calendar to directly challenge a pagan tradition. In this case, the church decided to move “All Saints Day” to Nov. 1, in order to have a positive celebration instead of the frightening attention paid to devils and the like.

“Halloween” was a church term that meant “All Hallows Eve” (or holy evening) and it was a now a time for Christians to proclaim that Jesus Christ had overcome all evil and all of the devil’s tricks through his death on the cross and his resurrection from the dead. By proclaiming Christ’s victory over death and the grave, no one in Ireland or Britain would ever have to trick or placate evil spirits again!

Now, all those who confess with their mouths that Jesus is Lord and believe in their hearts that God raised him from the dead will be saved (Romans 10:9). So, instead of fearing the tricks of the devil or witches, people could now look back on the deaths of those who were faithful to God as role models and sources of encouragement as they lived out their own Christian faith.

And, as a Lutheran Christian, I cannot help but remember that in 1517, a monk named Martin Luther used Oct. 31 to launch what would later be known as the Protestant Reformation. This is another day for Christians to celebrate as we seek to keep the church pure in doctrine and belief.

In our Halloween celebrations today, there is not much left that is directly from the old Druid religion. And, to be honest, there really isn’t much left that is predominantly Christian either. So, like those who have gone before us, we can choose to celebrate Halloween (or Holy Evening) by reminding our children of the heroes of the faith, who were willing to stand for truth no matter what the cost. And we can also use this day as an occasion to teach our children what it means to live as a Christian in this world.

The writer to the Hebrews reminded us of this very thing: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us” (Hebrews 12:1).

There is no getting around the excitement that children have for Halloween. After all, what child doesn’t like using their imagination, dressing up, and eating candy? Christian parents, then, can take this opportunity to dress their children up as a hero of the faith, or even some other positive role model, and remind them what it means to live like that person would have.

Let them use their imagination to explain why it would be a good thing for them to be like Moses or a Transformer! In fact, why not discuss this as you help them “sort” out their candy and talk about the attributes of “sharing” with one another?

Just as Jesus overcame all the works of the evil one in order to set us free from sin, death, and the power of the devil, may we use this time to share with others the great stories of the heroes of the faith, who have gone before us in order to redeem the world we live in.