Where does Halloween come from? And how to keep it positive.
Every October 31st we put on costumes, forego our “don’t talk to strangers” rule, and pile in more chocolate than Augustus Gloop from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
But is it just me, or does Halloween seem to be getting weirder—and more gruesome?
As we think it through, let’s probe where Halloween came from the first place.
Turns out, it’s a curious tale. I didn’t really know much about it myself, so I’m thankful to my friend and fellow-pastor Alex Douglas for some of the research he did. Here’s what he says:
“Halloween began in Ireland and Scotland around 2000 years ago – right around the time Jesus’ adult ministry began actually. On October 31 the ancient Irish and Scots celebrated the end of the summer and began preparing for winter. This day was also the ancient Celtic New Year – the day that was neither last year, nor the year to come – and a great day to play pranks!
The Celts also believed that on this, “in-between day,” spirits would wander the earth. So, logically, they dressed up in crazy outfits and made loud noises to confuse and scare them.
When Roman Catholicism spread to Ireland and Scotland in the fifth century they decided to make their own special day at the end of October – All Saints Day – a time to honour all the Roman Catholic Saints.
This is where the name “Halloween” comes from – it is the Englishization (yes, I just made up that word) of the term, “All Hallows Eve.” Part of this new tradition involved families going door to door asking for small cakes in exchange for the promise to pray for that household.”
Thanks for that background, Alex!
For many of us today, Halloween is about two things:
First, it’s about getting dressed up in costumes and pumping ourselves full of those cute mini-bags of chips and uber-tasty rocket candies.
Second, it’s about connecting with our friends and neighbours.
But there’s a growing, dark macabre. Have you noticed? The blood and violence displayed today would never have appeared so publicly even 20 years ago. For example, a few houses down from a local public school there are bloody dismembered body parts dangling from trees. That’s not really the “neighbourhood feel” I want for my kids.
But in light of all this, how do we handle Halloween in our house?
We focus on three things:
We make it about fun. The kids love to get dressed up and end the night with a good sugar high. Plus, I get to pillage their treat bags after they’re asleep! (Don’t tell.)
We focus on community—on having conversations and building bridges with our neighbours.
And third, we use it as an opportunity to discuss biblical insights like John 1:5 which says that God’s light “shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
Evil is real in our world. It’s not pretend. But it’s also not the boss.
So even though you can’t always have a say in what happens around you, you can have a say in what happens through you.
Historically, I like Halloween’s connection to All Hallows Eve, where families went door-to-door to get small cakes in exchange for prayer. Today, it’s much easier to buy pre-packaged chocolate bars, so I think we’ll go with that! But maybe this year I’ll use it is a chance to pray God’s best on every Ghoul, Superman and Minion who walks up my driveway.
No matter what you feel about Halloween, why not use it as an opportunity—not just for a calorie binge—but to connect with your friends and neighbours, and to discuss the power of God’s un-intimidated goodness and light in the midst of a troubled world.
In life, you can’t always have a say in what happens around you; but you can have a say in what happens through you.