As a child growing up in the late 1980s/early 1990s in a conservative, white, and Evangelical Protestant home, I (Karen) did not experience Halloween beyond a few church-hosted Harvest Festivals and classroom celebrations where I dressed up in Scottish or pioneer attire if I dressed up at all. If I gave the holiday any thought, I saw it as some holiday connected with the dark, Satanic things of the world celebrated by people who didn’t know any better about allowing Satan a foothold in their lives and the people who actually welcomed Satan’s presence. I did not think that there was a connection between the liturgical church calendar and pagan customs, unlike Christmas traditions- that is, until my high school French teacher gave the class a lesson on the connection between All Hallows’ Eve and Samhain, the Gaelic pagan celebration of the transition between the end of harvest season and winter’s beginning.
Her lesson seemed to affirm the Satanic dominance of Halloween that I had always connected with the holiday, so what intrigued me more was All Saints’ Day on November 1st, which is a day set aside to remember and reflect on the lives of saints who have attained heaven. This day is more widely celebrated by the Catholic Church and other orthodox/liturgical denominations than the Protestant branches of Christianity. The wider Protestant denominations vary in their acknowledgement of the holiday, so I can in no way claim that my upbringing was the norm, although my husband says his was similar. Halloween was barely acknowledged by my family or churches except to be wary of it, and All Saints’ Day was something not part of the Thanksgiving/Christmas/Easter trinity, so it essentially did not exist in my world. Looking at the number of churches I’ve seen host Harvest Festivals/Pumpkin Patches or do nothing at all for Halloween over the years, my worry is that teachable and evangelistic moments for Christians and the non-Christians in their communities have often been lost in spite of the churches’ efforts to provide a safe place for their communities to celebrate Halloween.
Somehow the Protestants managed to split one holiday into two over the centuries, in their effort to distance themselves from Papists and pagans alike. In stripping the two days of their liturgical significance during the Protestant Reformation aftermath, Protestants left the door open for the holiday to be reclaimed by occultists and for it to be secularized, so that now myths and traditions abound about Halloween, thus veiling All Saints’ Day with trick-or-treating, Jack-o-Lanterns, costumes, etc. All of which are harmless in and of themselves, but they upstage the Christian significance of the two days. Apparently, even some of the American Catholics began to have doubts about the holiday (insert link). Ironically, Protestant Evangelicals have since seemingly reconnected Halloween with Samhain through the invention of Harvest Festivals/Pumpkin Patches when churches realized that their attendees and neighbors wanted safe places for their children to celebrate the holiday and the only other seasonal connection they could make was with harvest time- this, also ironically, in an era where more and more people have little concept of the farming year and cycles.
I think this is a minor objection to Harvest Festivals, however, and to me it actually seems like a very underused connection (though not with the occultist practices used to celebrate the harvest). We can still see God’s providence and bounty year-round in our lives, and have every reason to celebrate it, not just at Thanksgiving. God established Succot (Feast of the Booths), a holiday for the Jewish people to celebrate the harvest every year, so there does not actually have to be the automatically assumed Samhain connection. This would be a perfect teachable moment for churches and their communities alike. Succot this year is October 16-23, and coordinating an authentic Feast of Booths would be a great way for churches to connect with their local Messianic Jewish community as well as invite their secular communities to participate in celebrating God’s goodness and care for His people’s needs, and most importantly, invite them to enter into relationships with their Creator and Provider. What I have seen happening, however, at the church Harvest Festivals I’ve attended, served at, and sadly planned, is that little to no evangelism is done, or that efforts made for evangelism are dropped within a year or two of the annual event’s occurrence, and All Saints’ Day is used to clean up the church campuses of the remaining straw bales, candy wrappers, discarded bits of costumes, and semi-spooky decorations. No real increases in church attendance could be documented either, at least not at my childhood church.
Where does this leave us, and where does it leave All Saints’ Day? For those of Catholic or other orthodox denominations, hopefully not left facing a hard journey back to their liturgical roots and honoring the Saints who precede them. For Protestants, especially the Evangelical Protestants, we are un-rooted and floundering, disconnected from a deep part of our spiritual heritage. We tend to know very little about the Saints, except that we shouldn’t pray to them, and do not have their stories of faith to inspire our own. Americans in particular are also largely unconnected with modern day saints- their Christian neighbors in their own communities and Christians who are often being martyred overseas. We are surrounded by “such a great cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1), saints who actually lived and died faithfully serving Christ. Let’s honor them by telling their stories and not letting them be forgotten. I’m also reminded of the Apostle Paul, giving thanks to God for fellow believers (Romans 1:8,Colossians 1:3, I Thessalonians 2:13). The Christian Church is now very truly international- we have so much more reason even than Paul had to give thanks for our fellow Christians, and to support, encourage, and honor them. I would love to see churches connect their Missions Week with All Saints’ Day, or even begin having a Missions Week. Or, how about churches holding a church-wide fellowship night? A broader fellowship night with another church or two also in attendance? We need to do something. Protestants have left October 31 and November 1 barren, like the person Jesus describes inMatthew 12:43-45 that once was demon-possessed and cleaned up his/her life, but did not invite Christ in to dwell and so is filled once more with eight demons instead of one, as the holiday is now filled with worldly traditions and practices that are in many ways a mockery of what it could and should be. For us as wives and mothers, we are left with definitely more personal decisions about how to approach the holiday. For myself, I will celebrate the saint who married me, the saints who are our support system, and together we’ll likely use the date as a very good excuse over the years to bless other saints. I think each year will be different with our kid(s). Maybe we’ll emphasize costume parties with friends for Halloween and a day of service and giving back to the church for All Saints’ Day. I know I’ll be encouraging costumes that venerate an honorable person/characteristic and/or are innocent of evil and the paranormal (in order to avoid the appearance of evil- I Thessalonians 5:22– & to let their minds dwell on the things of God- Philippians 4:8). I’ll also be encouraging the kid(s) to teach the truth of the holiday to friends, and to evangelize as well, perhaps at aforementioned costume parties, Child Evangelism Fellowships Good News Clubs-style.
*Originally published on October 13, 2016 at http://blogbeemom.blogspot.com/
Image originally from: http://catholicism.about.com/od/holydaysandholidays/p/All_Saints_Day.htm