What is up with Christians and Halloween? I used to love Halloween when I was a kid. Dressing up, going trick or treating, eating all of that candy, carving pumpkins. How can that not be fun? And I'd like to think that my costume choices were always great. I was the typical princess at one point, but I was also a can of Pop when I was really little (and yes, I just said Pop, I'm from the north). One year I was Betsy Ross. No joke, I was the woman who sewed the American flag. In college I was the Hamburglar from McDonalds, and in graduate school I was a ninja turtle. It's so much fun!
But I also remember the year that Halloween fell on a Sunday. The most recent time this happened was in 2010, but I remember the arguments that surrounded this when I was a kid, especially in the year 1993. My father worked at a church, so I got to hear all of the conversations. There were folks at my church who thought it was terrible that Halloween could possibly fall on a Sunday and we were told that if we dressed up and went trick or treating, we were not really Christians. I remember getting so upset about that. I was going to be a princess that year and my mother had made my costume and I was so excited! But I was also scared. I honestly could not fathom what me dressing up as a princess had to do with me also being a Christian. And apparently my parents didn't see the connection either, cause I clearly remember trick or treating as a princess that year and getting a pretty good haul of candy.
But depending on whom you ask, Halloween probably falls somewhere between harmless secular celebration on one end of the spectrum and pagan or satanic holiday on the other. Most of us probably don’t ever think of it as a Christian holiday. But did you know that’s actually how it started?
The word Halloween is simply a contraction of All Hallows’ Evening. And a lot of you probably recognize the word "hallowed" from something that we say in church often. "Our Father, who art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name." Now the word Hallowed means 'set apart' or 'consecrated'. The verb hallow means 'to set apart as holy.' But hallow can also be a noun, and it means a holy person or a saint. That’s where we get Halloween. Essentially it’s another term for All Saints’ Eve, which makes it pretty significant, because on November 1, All Saints’ Day is observed all over the world as a day of celebrating the communion of saints, a community made up of all past, present and future Christians.
With All Saints’ Day being on November 1st, some have argued that Halloween was an attempt to Christianize a pagan festival of the dead observed by the ancient Celts called Samhain. Although the focus and purposes of the two days were quite different, the common theme of the dead was present in both festivals. As time passed, no doubt the Christians influenced the pagans, and vice versa. And this is where we get the controversy over whether it is a Christian holiday, or a pagan holiday. And the answer, as you can see, is, that it is sort of both.
But this year, as we look onward toward Halloween I think it's important to look at the "Hallowed" part of the word. As Christians we are called to be set apart as Holy. This reminds me of Ephesians 5 where we are told "For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light— for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true." As we go about our lives, we are called to be holy and to let the love and grace of Christ that is within us to shine forth so others can see that light.
And so as we are heading into a holiday that takes place almost entirely in the dark, let's be a light that shines bright. As we head into a holiday that literally means "holy and set apart," let's show the world why we are different. I watched a video recently where there was a guy who was trying to give back, and so he was simply walking up to people and asking what he could do for them. It could be anything, carrying groceries, housework, mowing a lawn. He just wanted to help out. And most people he approached, sent him away, because they were skeptical of his intentions. Because when we bear fruit in the world, the world knows something is up, that there is something different about you. And that is when the world can see the light of Christ shining through you. It's evident through the fruit we bear.
So this Halloween I want to encourage you to look at the holiday differently. Instead of seeing it as something scary, or something less than holy, I want to encourage you rather to see it as the perfect opportunity to remember that in Christ there is no darkness at all. That in this dark dark world, we can conquer the darkness through shining God's light. That when you let your light shine before others, they will see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. It's Halloween. Hallowed be Thine Name. For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light— for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true. Amen.
Rev. Cassie Rapko
Photo depicting Pastor Cassie and her college roommate as the Hamburgler and Grimace from 2007