Churches and Halloween – now that brings up an interesting vision doesn’t it? First let’s explore the history of this festive holiday. Wikipedia and Britannica Online mentions that Halloween has roots in the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain which is celebrated at the end of the harvest season. The Gaels believed that on that date, the window between the living and the dead was very thin and could be crossed easily. In order to pacify evil spirits, costumes and masks were worn. “All Hallow’s Eve” became Halloween – the eve of All Saints Day, a Christian observance.
The date for All Saints’ Day was set at November 1st in the 800s by Pope Boniface IV. The church day began at sunset, so All Hallow’s Eve and All Saints’ Day coincided for a few short hours. In 1000 A.D. the Church made November 2nd – All Souls’ Day. The early Colonial settlers in America disapproved and forbade the Halloween celebration.
In North America churches of different denominations look upon Halloween differently. The Anglicans choose to emphasize the Christian traditions of All Saints’ Day while some Protestant churches refer to it as Reformation Day. Though beginning as a pagan celebration, both pagan and Christian beliefs are intwined in various celebrations from Oct. 31st – November 5th. Some Catholic parochial school children enjoy the holiday by dressing up in costumes. The Boston Diocese has began a “Saint Fest” on Halloween. Others of very conservative or fundamentalist Protestant churches, may see Halloween as trivializing the occult. Others consider that there is no place in Christian belief for Halloween because of the secular origins of the celebration.
One tradition from England that has been varied in America, is the giving of food on Halloween. “All Souls’ Cakes” were given to beggars for the promise that prayers for their deceased relatives would be said. This distribution of these cakes was encouraged by the Church to replace the long held practice of leaving out food and wine for spirits.
As a child, I would always dress in a costume – usually one that was harmless – and with my parents, participate in “Beggar’s Night”. As a teen, our church youth group would have a Halloween Party, and we would visit the various “Haunted Houses” in the area. These places were set up by non-profit organizations to raise money for various charities – the March of Dimes and Muscular Dystrophy. A local television personality, “Dr. Creep” would often be at the Muscular Dystrophy house to welcome guests. Admission was no more than a dollar or two (this was back in the mid to late 70s) so it was pretty easy to hit every Haunted House in a ten mile radius on one evening and not break the bank. I remember how cold it used to be standing outside in the long line waiting to get in. Most of the actors were members of the non-profit or volunteers who worked every evening for a few weeks, sacrificing their own agendas, in order to help raise money. They also knew when enough was enough and who they could really scare and who they needed to be a little extra careful with.
As an adult, I’ve enjoyed having my children dress up for Halloween and either taking them around the neighborhood or (while my husband does that) staying home and passing out candy. When I was a child, people were still allowed to give out candied or caramel apples, homemade popcorn balls or cookies. Unfortunately, due to some pretty foolish people who chose to hurt children by lacing homemade goodies or apples with harmful substances, we rely on pacifying kids with sugar-laced candy.
I’ve also dressed up on more than one ocassion for either an adult Halloween party or our church’s Halloween Festival. Yes for a number of years our church was still celebrating Halloween. We didn’t call it a “Fall” festival like so many other churches or schools or organizations in order not to “offend” anyone. It was a fun time to dress up and have fun. The Youth would run games and a cake walk and everyone would have a good time snacking and enjoying fellowship. The kids even got to wear their (not scary) costumes to church on a Sunday before Halloween and have a costume parade through the Sunday School classes.
Halloween – or any celebration and holiday – with roots in the secular and pagan world – can be as innocent or evil as we make it.