This weekend many people will celebrate Halloween. The origins of Halloween are Celtic in tradition and have to do with observing the end of summer sacrifices to gods in pagan and Druidic tradition, in what is now Britain and France.
The Pagan Sahain festival, as it was known, celebrated the final harvest, death and the onset of winter, for three days October 31 – November 2. The Celts believed that the curtain dividing the living and the dead was lifted during this festival and allowed the spirits of the dead to walk among the living.
The only way of escape was by disguising themselves as evil spirits. Hence, the imagery of death, symbolised by skeletons, skulls and the colour black, which remains a prominent part of today’s Halloween celebrations.
However as Christianity spread across Europe, Christians attempted to co-opt the festival by celebrating the lives of faithful Christian Saints the day before Halloween (All Hallows Eve).
It was a conscious attempt to provide an alternative focus away from ghosts and witches and other haunted experiences. As centuries passed it has become common place to mark Halloween with lighted pumpkins (left), dressing up and trick or treat.
This is for many a time of fun, and I don’t want to spoil that for anyone, but there are sides to this celebration that are concerning not least for those made vulnerable with strangers knocking at their door and sometimes playing jokes and, in the worse cases, anti-social behaviour. There’s an even more serious aspect, the increase in superstition and superstitious behaviour that plays negatively with the imagination.
That’s why many of our churches will be offering alternative celebrations at Halloween. The Church doesn’t want to stop people enjoying Halloween but it wants people to mark it as a celebration of heroes and saints and the ultimate triumph of good over evil through Jesus Christ.
The church isn’t pretending that All Hallows didn’t originally have pre-Christian pagan roots, but it is now marked as a special celebration when light comes from darkness.
The formal view of the Church of England is that Halloween has the power to trivialise evil and can be portrayed as celebrating the triumph of evil over good when in fact, as Christians, we hold that the opposite is true and that, in Christ, good conquers evil.
So by all means enjoy your Halloween celebrations but why not try doing something different by contacting one of your local churches. And, if your church isn’t having a party or celebration, why not do something different yourself?
Something that speaks about being positive, encouraging and showing good and love to others, such as giving to charity.
Surely that’s more positive than focusing on ghosts and ghouls and things that go bump in the night.