Contrary to popular belief, the most prevalent emotion of the Halloween season is not fear. It's guilt -- guilt, guilt and more guilt. As parents, we either feel guilty because we're depriving our children of the holiday or we feel guilty for not depriving them when our convictions tell us we should. It isn't always self-imposed guilt, either. There's no shortage of people ready to give an opinion or make a judgment about how the Christian family should deal with Halloween.
Our own family is not foreign to this nagging guilt. We never felt peace that we were making the most God-honoring, spiritually profitable choice when it came to this controversial holiday. It seemed as if no matter what decision we made -- from participating in all the festivities of the holiday to turning all the lights off and hiding in our home - we never felt the Halloween issue was fully resolved.
All of that changed when a friend and I decided to do some in-depth research on Halloween to put our questions to rest once and for all. What we learned was more surprising than we'd imagined. The story we discovered strengthened our faith, humbled us before God, and revealed anew the glory of Jesus Christ. The story begins at the foot of the cross.
Historical Origins of Halloween
There, some 2000 years ago, began a new age in history when men, women and children who embraced a relationship with Jesus Christ would be called upon to lay down their lives for the sake of their Savior. During the first 300 years after Christ's death and resurrection, the Roman government set about on a campaign of extermination. Defenseless Christians became the target of the state's cruelest and most persistent crusade. Christianity was an affront to the deities of Rome and Christians were the easy target of blame whenever an unfavorable situation arose. If there were a drought, the Christians had offended the rain god. If fire, earthquake, or flood, the gods were angry at the Christians' unwillingness to sacrifice to them. Even military misfortunes were these stubborn people's doing.
Beginning with Nero, wave after wave of persecution swept over the budding church. Eventually no excuse was needed. Christians subverted the state religion — paganism — and became a thorn in Rome's side. The empire's answer was torture. The believers' response was faith.
Amazing stories of devotion to Christ emerged during those dark days. A young mother, Perpetua, refused to deny the name of Jesus. Ignoring the pleas of her unbelieving father and frantic appeals to think of her young baby, she chose death and the promise of eternal life.
A group of 40 Roman soldiers stood together in their refusal to offer sacrifices to the Roman gods. The furious Roman governor condemned them to be stripped and placed in the center of a frozen lake, surrounded by soldiers and tubs of hot water. Taunted to deny Christ and climb into the warm tubs, only one of the forty weakened. When one of the guards saw this, he was grieved for that man's denial and he was converted on the spot. "I am a Christian," he shouted, stripping off his uniform and taking the man's place on the frozen lake to die with his new brothers.
Many hearts came to faith, not in spite of these stories, but because of them. Rome's plan was backfiring and the church, even under unspeakable horror, was growing. At last, by A.D. 311, there was no denying the supremacy of Christianity. That year, an edict of toleration was issued, calling not only for an end to persecution, but also for the protection of Christians to meet together in worship. Its security was truly sealed, however, with the public conversion of Rome's emperor, Constantine, in the year A.D. 313. Within a short time, Constantine would declare Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire, and thus the known world. God, indeed, had a plan.
As the church stepped into a new position of worldly honor that she had never before known, these martyrs were officially recognized. There were not enough days on the calendar to set aside for each name, so eventually one day was set aside for remembrance of all. In A.D. 610, the church dedicated May 13 as All Saints Day. The "holy day" was added to other Christian festivals already being celebrated, namely Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost. Also known as All Hallows, May 13 was the date the festival was celebrated for over 100 years.
Then in A.D. 741, All Hallows, or All Saints Day, found a new home on the calendar. At that time there were concerns about the growing popularity of a pagan festival held on November 1, known as Samhain (sow-en). With origins dating back to the days of the Celts and Druids, this pagan festival was beginning to have an influence even within the Christian community. To counteract this influence, the church turned to a previously successful strategy of claiming the controversial date as their own. This strategy had worked well in the case of Christmas. The celebration of Jesus birth was assigned December 25 on the calendar not because it was proved as the actual date He was born, but because pagans were celebrating the Winter Solstice at that time. The goal was to redeem the Winter Solstice season.
To that end, Samhain was challenged by moving the church's celebration of All Saints Day to November 1. Borrowing from the Jewish tradition of preparing for significant festivals, the Christian church reserved the day before the religious festival as a sacred time also. October 31, was then, set aside as the evening of preparation called "All Hallow ‘een," or "the eve of the holy ones." Together, they created a meaningful time for the church to remember the early martyrs.
Obeying Hebrews 13:7, the church fathers believed in the value of honoring faithful men and women: "Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith." No matter what denomination you belong to, we are all part of the universal church that suffered in the name of Christ. There was, and still is, much to imitate in the lives of not only those who died a martyr's death, but also those who lived out lives full of faith.
That is what the night of Halloween was orginally established to contemplate and celebrate.
In the next installment, Trick-or-Treating With Purpose, we'll look at a practical way Christian parents can celebrate Halloween with their kids in keeping with the faith.
Originally posted Oct. 13, 2005
This article was adapted from Redeeming Halloween: Celebrating without Selling Out (Focus on the Family and Tyndale House). Copyright 2004 by Kim Wier and Pam McCune. Pick up a copy online or at your local bookstore for more in-depth information and ideas on celebrating this unique and spiritual holiday.
Kim Wier is the director of Engaging Women, a ministry of women encouraging women through speaking, writing and broadcasting. The author of four books, an award winning humor columnist and radio talk show host, Kim regularly speaks to audiences around the country with depth and humor that focuses on discovering God in the everyday experiences of life. For more visit www.engagingwomen.com.