Halloween: In the Land of the Shadow

Halloween: In the Land of the Shadow

NINTH-CENTURY IRELAND
Fifteen-year-old Antonius walked along the woods near the monastery as twilight shadows wrapped themselves around him. "Lord, I know you've called me here, but I didn't know it would be this hard. People in Ireland are so different from those in Rome."

Antonius heard noise coming from the nearby village, but he continued to pray. "Lord, tonight is October 31, All Hallow's Eve. It is a night to remember the faithful believers of the past. But I also want to honor them by living as they did and sharing your love with those who don't know you."

A sudden movement in the bushes startled Antonius. A loud shriek pierced the air as a hefty stick swung at his head.

Antonius ducked quickly and grabbed the weapon. "What are you doing?" he yelled.

"I...I'm not afraid of you!" the youngster stuttered, but his chattering teeth gave him away.

His sense of danger having passed, Antonius calmed down. "Nor should you be," he said.

"But you're a g-ghost!" the boy stammered.

"Certainly not! Why would you think that?" Antonius asked the boy.

DARKNESS ALL AROUND
The boy forgot his manners. "You talk funny."

Antonius laughed. "I've just arrived from Rome. I'm studying at the monastery to be a monk. Now what has you so jumpy?"

"Tomorrow is new year's," explained the boy. "The spirits come out tonight, and I'm looking for them!"

"The young monk looked thoughtful. "My name is Antonius, and tomorrow is a special day for Christians, too. It's All Saints' Day, when we remember the people who died serving Jesus Christ."

"I'm William," answered the boy. "Is Jesus your god?"

Antonius answered with confidence, "Yes, Jesus is God, but He was also a man."

William looked anxious. "Well, I'm sorry about nearly clobbering you."

"All is forgiven," Antonius said. "Give me the stick, and I'll walk you back to the village."

William agreed. "Sure, you can help me if we meet any spirits!"

Antonius gazed at the boy as their feet crunched fallen leaves. Flickering lights from the village beckoned, but he felt the darkness of some of the Celtic beliefs. "Lord, let your light shine into William's heart."

A LIGHT HAS DAWNED
In the village, people were dressed in ghoulish costumes. A pig squealed and ran in front of them. "At least it wasn't a black cat," William commented. "That would be bad luck."

Antonius didn't believe in luck. After a moment he asked, "Why are people dressed like the dead?"

"To confuse the evil spirits. We also leave food for them so they won't hurt us."

They came to a bonfire, and William stretched out his hands to warm them. "Bonfires help our loved ones find us so we can ask them about the future. Mother hopes my father's spirit will visit tonight."

Antonius thought of the saints he intended to honor the next day. Of course there were the great heroes, like the disciples themselves, but it was even more important to him to remember the saints of his own family—those who had shared their faith with him. How would his dear grandmother help this young man understand? "William," he began. "On this night we Christians also honor our dead."

"Do they visit you?" asked William.

"No, we don't believe that, but we light candles to honor them. I want to live my life in faith like the great saints of the past."

William looked confused, so Antonius tried to explain. "Jesus died for our sins on a cross. On the third day, he rose from the dead, and all who trust in Him will live forever in heaven."

"Rose from the dead! See I told you!" answered William.

"No, not like that," explained Antonius. "Jesus is in heaven, and all who believe in Him will go there too."

"You mean they won't roam around on the earth?" asked William.

"No, not at all!" answered the monk. "Say, why don't you come by the monastery tomorrow and I can tell you more about Jesus and All Saints' Day?"

William smiled. "Sure!"

"And William," said Antonius, "leave the stick at home. I doubt you'll need it!"

Before Christianity came to Great Britain, the Celtic people had a lot of pagan beliefs. In late fall, they thought the dead would visit them. It is believed that they left food on their doorsteps and built bonfires. Some even dressed like the dead and went house to house. This is how the tradition of "trick or treat" began.

In the third and fourth centuries, Christianity began to spread through Europe and into Great Britain. But even so, many of the pagan Celtic customs were still popular. Then, Christians removed the Pagan temples, but still Celtic traditions carried on.

Finally in the eighth century, the church decided to have a day to honor the great Christians of the past, on November 1. This is called "All Saints' Day." The word "hallow" means "to make holy or sacred." Therefore, October 31 would be known as hallow's eve to describe the night before the day to honor those great souls. That is where the name "Halloween" comes from. It is a night that can remind Christians that, rather than worry about evil spirits like others do, they can honor and remember the great Christian heroes of the past.

HALLOWEEN IN THE U.S.A.
For the first 200 years of American history, Halloween wasn't observed. When the Irish came in 1840, they brought along an old legend about a man named Jack. The story goes that Jack couldn't go to Heaven because he kept all his money for himself. He was not allowed in Hell, because he kept playing tricks on the Devil. The legend says Jack was ordered to roam about with a lantern lit by a live coal. Though "jack o' lanterns" could be made from turnips, potatoes, or beets, there were so many pumpkins in America that the Irish used them.

Make It Real! Questions to make you dig a little deeper and think a little harder.
  1. The word "hallow" means "to make holy" or "to honor as holy." How can you keep Halloween a holy day?
  2. Who are the people that have helped you grow in faith? How might you honor them on All Saints' Day (November 1)?
  3. Are there Christian history heroes you find inspiring? Who and why?
  4. Are there parts of Halloween that you find scary? Look up I John 4:4. How could this verse give you comfort if you are afraid of any dark beliefs?
  5. How can you decide what Halloween activities, decorations, and costumes honor God and which do not?
Suggested reading:
  • Stortz, Diane. Let's Shine Jesus' Light on Halloween. Standard Publishing, 2005.
  • Higgs, Liz Curtis. The Pumpkin Patch Parable. Thomas Nelson Publishers.
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