Halloween conjures up a variety of pictures and memories for many people, Christians especially. As a child I remember being escorted to our neighbors homes to gather free candy. As I grew older I had clearer memories from going trick-or-treating as a runner, cheerleader, homeless person or a bunch of grapes with friends collecting candy donations in our pillowcases. I recall handing out sweet treats to children who were so shy and sweet in their princess or pirate costumes, one couldn’t help but enjoy the holiday. Innocent families casually dress up like animals and receive candy from their friends while roasting pumpkin seeds, a good memory at the very least. I look forward to the pictures sent of my nephews and niece in their costumes, so cute you want to kiss them and take them home.
Tomorrow is Halloween. I know some people are getting very excited about this holiday. It’s their favorite with pumpkin carving, apple bobbing, costume parties and candy corn (ooh, that’s my favorite). There are others I know who are strictly opposed to all things Halloween because of the negative spiritual undertone is has. Granted, though not necessarily spiritual, there are those moments where you walk in your local drug or convenience store with an innocent 4-year-old only to see the giant display of a hanging skeleton bleeding from the mouth or coming out of a casket. This doesn’t do much for a child’s thought life or feeling of safety. There’s a reason Scripture says, “I will put no vile thing before my eyes.” (Psalm 101:3) If I’m honest, I can hardly handle some of the décor myself. We can’t always get those images out! However, there are positives and negatives to everything and Halloween is no different.
Before you hold firm to your stance, beliefs or practice on the day, let’s review how Halloween came to be what it is in our culture. I started getting curious about this myself as I remembered Halloween being the same day as Reformation Day growing up. Does it have to be one or the other? Is one spiritual and the other not? Which do I celebrate?
Halloween’s roots come from the Irish. Hallowe’en is similar to a Celtic New Year’s party. The day signified the end of summer and the beginning of a darker time of year. Some believe the transition time thinned the layer between our world and the Otherworld allowing spirits, both harmless and harmful, to roam the earth more freely. The costume started as a way to disguise oneself as an evil spirit in order to avoid them. Masks would protect you. Even today, confirmed by Ewan McGregor this week on Jay Leno, Irish children who are trick-or-treating actually still sing, dance or perform before receiving their candy on Halloween. This is tradition! Candles are lit in remembrance of loved ones who have passed away and there is an Irish myth that includes a turnip with a candle inside to see, similar to our jack-o-lantern. (Pumpkins are more unique to North America because of the size of our harvest. Plainly, they are easier to carve!)
Reformation Day recalls October 31, 1517 when Martin Luther delivered what is now recognized as his 95 Theses. The Catholic Church was raising money in order to rebuild St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome by selling indulgences. The accepted theology was that God’s grace would be given to you if your life produced charity and good works. Buying indulgences were a sign of charity and would get you closer to heaven. Luther had issues with this, as do many churches today, and he wrote a letter opposing this teaching claiming grace from God is freely given, supported by Ephesians 2:8: “For it is by grace you have been saved through faith – and this not from yourselves, but is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.” It is commonly accepted that this day was the catalyst for the Protestant Reformation.
I share with you a small portion of the background for October 31st for 2 reasons. First, I believe knowledge is key. Both Halloween and Reformation Day are memorable holidays that can and should be celebrated. I know there are passionate people who believe celebrating Halloween goes against the Lord, takes away from Reformation Day or celebrates the evil one, but we must be careful not to cross the line into legalism. Today, I have grown somewhat weary of Halloween myself. One might as well hand out cavities rather than candy and instead of innocent children going door to door with their parents we have prostitots running around assuming everyone is entitled to free food. Strange how time changes things. While I may not fully appreciate the joys of costumes and candy from neighbors, it is fun being able to carve images into pumpkins with friends, toasting seeds and sharing apple cider together. It’s nice to be able to remember Luther’s courage and convictions allowing us to reflect on our own theology, passion or God’s grace. Neither Halloween nor Reformation Day needs to exclude one another.
The second reason I write today is to encourage tolerance for those whose opinions differ from yours. You may be thinking of a family down the street who seem to have a stick up their butts regarding this fun day that is mostly fueled by innocence. Maybe you’re that family and you are thinking of those people who irresponsibly involve their kids in activities that are rooted in myths, spiritual beliefs, or a holiday that wasn’t started in our country. Either way, it’s not your concern. I see the irony of writing my own opinion in this reflection, but it is exactly that, an opinion. Our job is not to convict our neighbors and try to be the Holy Spirit for one another. Nor is our job to loosen our conservative neighbors up a bit. One of my favorite lines from a dear friend years ago has always stuck with me. If you’re confused about what to do or celebrate October 31st this year I suggest you “love God and do what you want.” Jesus tells us in Mark 12:29-31, “The most important one (commandment) is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no greater commandment than these.”
Before you take a position on Halloween, Reformation Day, Santa and Christmas or anything else, make sure that in whatever you do you are loving God and loving others in the process. Feel no guilt. When we are being faithful, regardless of what else is going on, we are pleasing the Lord.