This devotion was originally written at the request of a layperson, that they might share about the origin of Halloween and what All Saint’s Day is.
It may be hard to believe that modern Halloween celebrations emerged from an ancient Christian holiday. It’s not unheard of for some Christians to avoid celebrating Halloween, given its association with dark, evil, and inappropriate things. No doubt Christians are free to tastefully enjoy the day. To understand how it transitioned to a secular holiday takes quite a bit of untangling of history. It may be more helpful to just focus on the original holiday.
We have records as far back as the 4th century AD of Christians having feasts and festivals to celebrate martyrs and other notable Christians. Then as early as 800 AD there are records of a single day set aside to celebrate all the faithful departed, often called “saints”.
Depending on what Christian faith tradition you come from, the term saint is used differently. For Roman Catholics and Orthodox Christians, the term saint is reserved only for Christians who lived exceptionally holy lives. In other traditions, such as Lutheran and many protestant churches, we apply the title of saint to all believing Christians. The word saint literally means “holy”.
To share from a Lutheran background, we would call everyone a saint who has been made holy by Jesus’ blood through faith. On all Saints’ Day we celebrate all of the faithful saints who have died and are with God. Especially we recognize those who have died in the past year, often reading each name and ringing a bell afterward. It makes for an incredibly bittersweet day, as we simultaneously mourn death, but also have great joy in their salvation through our Lord Jesus.
Another name for All Saints Day is All Hallows’ Day, the word “hallow” being a derivative of the word Holy, such as in the Lord’s Prayer we pray “..Hallowed be thy name”. This is where the name Halloween comes from.
Traditionally with Christian Holidays, it was normal to celebrate the eve of the coming great day. This might come from Jewish tradition, as the Jews counted a new day starting, not at sunrise as we think, but at sun down. That’s why Christmas Eve is often just as important, if not more important in some traditions than Christmas Day itself. Likewise, there is a tradition of having an Easter Vigil service, typically meeting at 11 PM, so that by the time the service is over, it is indeed Easter morning.
In the same way, Hallow’s Eve became a great celebration, and likely invited superstition as some might wonder whether people’s souls had gone to heaven or to hell. You can imagine how this invited the thought of ghosts and spirits as well, as is custom to think about with modern Halloween.
Regardless of how it came about, it is no problem for Christians to tastefully celebrate our modern Halloween. What would be good for us Christians is to remember the roots of this celebration, and to give thanks that God, through our Lord Jesus, has made it that all who receive the Holy Spirit can be made Holy before our God, and therefore worthy of the title “Saint”. It is good for us to remember and give thanks for all the faithful saints who have gone before us, and to look forward to a day when all the faithful saints will be in our Lord’s Kingdom for eternity.
Pastor Paul Gaschler