It was much to my dismay that I learned, in recent years, some (non-Lutheran) Christian groups were appropriating Reformation Day celebrations as a way to push out Halloween. These groups falsely believe that Halloween (All Hallow’s Eve) is “pagan” or a “Devil worshipping Day” or some other such accusation. As a person who enjoys celebrating and observing both Reformation and Halloween, I feel that I must protest and make the case for seeing how these two events coincide quite nicely.
This week we will be observing All Saints Sunday when we, as a congregation, will remember the saints of God who died over the last year. This is when we transfer our observance of All Saints Day because we believe the day too important to ignore. When, in 1517, Martin Luther published in 95 Theses, they were written to be debated on November 1 (All Saints Day).
Perhaps I have missed some scholar making the following argument, but I’m going to make it now. I don’t believe Luther simply chose the nearest festival day to start his debating: I think he deliberately chose to start this argument when he did. He chose the beginning of Allhallowtide. This is the technical name of the three days encompassing Halloween, All Saints Day, and All Souls Day (November 2). Allhallowtide is the season when we remember how God forgave the members of the Church and made them holy. The 95 Theses are ALL ABOUT THAT! These debate topics are all themed around how Christ makes Christians holy through faith apart from works.
In Luther’s writings, he states that his mission and motivation for creating a theological revolution wasn’t to split the Church. Instead, Luther wrote, he wanted to see the Church be made holy. Luther started a Reformation to see the Church Hallowed.
To celebrate Reformation without celebrating Halloween is to undercut the whole message and mission Luther undertook.
I also feel compelled to defend the Christian observance of Halloween. To make the following paragraphs summed up in one phrase: Halloween is a Christian celebration.
First off: etymology. Halloween. Hallow’een. Hallows Eve. All Hallows Eve. Think of it like Christmas Eve, if we were to start calling it “Christmas’een.”
Secondly: history. All Hallows Eve is the liturgical day of vigil for the following day (just as a Christmas Eve service is a vigil service the day before the ACTUAL day). The records we have show that the Christian Church has been remembering and celebrating Saints who have died since the mid-100s (a little over a century after Jesus conquered the grave). Ephrem the Syrian wrote that All Saints was celebrated on May 13. John of Chrysostom celebrated All Saints the first Sunday after Pentecost (the Greek Orthodox Church still celebrates it here). Pope Gregory III (who was pope 731-741) probably moved All Saints to November 1 to celebrate the dedication of a new chapel (sources in England and Ireland tell us that a little after the death of Pope Gregory III they were celebrating All Saints on November 1).
Historically Samhain is a pre-Christian Celtic festival. The Celts used the Coligny calendar which is a lunisolar calendar that (like the Hebraic Calendar) needed “leap months” to prevent their celebrations getting too out of sync with the seasons. The Christian Church, having started while under the Roman Empire, followed the then Julian calendar, and later the Gregorian. The Julian and Gregorian calendars are pure solar calendars and anchor themselves to the equinoxes and solstices.
What this means is that Samhain was celebrated according to the Coligny calendar. November is in from the Roman calendar so Samhain would move around as our calendars are written today.
In the Neo-Pagan religious movement of the mid-20th century there was a reconstitution of Samhain, but this time anchoring it to October 31 and November 1. Halloween had been going strong on October 31 for about 1100 years by the time Samhain arrived. It is fine for Neo-Pagans to observe their holy days when they want, but traditionally they would likely have observed Samhain on October 27, 2019 (New moon roughly halfway through the autumn season).
First, ask whether the costume is of a good character or an evil character.
As Allhallowtide is the Christian observance of all the saints, it would be natural for some folks to dress up as their favorite saint, much like how kids dress up as their heroes. Such costuming is a way to honor and celebrate the heroes.
Allhallowtide is also a time for Christians to laugh at the evil forces, powers that have been cut down by Jesus Christ. Costuming has a long history of being used to mock evil. If someone dresses as the Grim Reaper, it would make sense for them to do pratfalls to mock how death has stumbled.
In the Middle Ages the poor would often go begging on Holy Days because there was a greater likelihood of Christian Charity (see the Christmas carol “We wish you a Merry Christmas,” particularly that big of figgy puddings). Knowing that one was going to hear about all the saints who treated poor well during the next day’s sermon, and suddenly a beggar shows up at the door, would you refuse them?
In all likelihood the poor would bless those who gave them food and said a prayer for them. But would one be surprised if they pulled a bit of mischief against someone who slighted them?
Noteworthy is that Trick-or-Treating could be done whenever in Allhallowtide. So, while in Pennsylvania it looks like we are in for a dark and stormy night and some places have moved Trick-or-Treating: don’t worry, it is well within the Christian tradition to observe it through November 2.
Anyway, the night is starting! Tomorrow will be a bit more about All Saints Day, All Souls Day, and All Saints Sunday. Remember that we have the Harvest Dinner on November 2 at St Paul from 3-6PM. People are welcome to costume up!
May you have a blessed and happy Reformation Day and Halloween!