The history of the festival comes to us from the old Celtic tradition at harvest time called Samhain, where folks got together to celebrate the blessings of an abundant growing season. The timing of the festival led to it’s naming, as it would take place usually on the eve of All Hallow’s Day, or All-Hallow’s-Even. All Hallows is a beautiful and solemn occasion where, in the church, we honour all the saints (both known and unknown), giving thanks for their ministry in the past. In Medieval England and Ireland, the poor would go door to door on All Hallow’s Day and offer prayers for the dead of the household in return for gifts of food or money. In Scotland these folks often wore costumes to prevent identification. Hence the traditions of costumes and trick-or-treating!
While there are definitely a variety of opinions about Halloween in the church, I personally do not feel that celebrating it promotes paganism. Rather, I believe that it is simply an opportunity for children (and the young at heart) to dress up and celebrate innocent fun. It’s like a community play date in the tickle trunk; it is after all just a game. More than that, what I see at Halloween is the opportunity for a community to come together and celebrate their friends and neighbours as equals. By choosing to be involved we demonstrate our commitment to our community, by opening our doors we demonstrate hospitality, by sharing treats we show our generosity.
There is also the opportunity for the church to show the community what is has to offer. I know of some church buildings which are used as meeting places, with volunteers screening candy for safety. This year I’ll be in a church hall to hand out free coffee or hot chocolate to the adults accompanying the little ghosts and goblins (for whom there will be juice). There are some youth groups who participate in reverse trick-or-treating, an event where they go door to door prior to the 31st handing out Fair Trade chocolate samples and information on how to make Halloween a truly just celebration.
Halloween can be a fun time for the whole family – in the home and in the church. An important thing to remember though, is that no matter what costumes or masks we wear, God still knows exactly who we are. God knows this is one night of community celebration, in a year of worship. So I would suggest that you and your kids go out and celebrate the event, but offer your prayers when you come safely home. And know that there are others who will be offering prayers of thanksgiving for the children going door to door, and asking God’s protection on them as they enjoy themselves. And some of us Christians will be joyfully and playfully wearing our own silly costumes and handing out our own candy as we offer those prayers.
Have a safe and Happy Halloween!