Inspiration – All Saints’ Day and Eve celebrations

Pastor Terry Goerz,
Redeemer Lutheran Church

Our congregation celebrated All Saints’ Day this past Sunday. It actually falls on Nov. 1, so we celebrated on the closest Sunday.

On the Feast Day of All Saints’, we pray that we would be numbered among those who rejoice in the blessings of the fuller presence of God in His eternal kingdom; that is with God in heaven. With thankfulness, we recall those who have completed their earthly journeys in faith and who now rest from their labours.

On this special day, we remember the blessed saints of times long past and those of recent times as well. As we think of their blessed state, we also rejoice that we, too, are among the blessed, living out our daily lives as the baptized children of God in this time and place. By God’s grace in Christ, we have a promised place among the saints and can joyfully claim this day as ours!

Since the secular world celebrates Halloween the evening before All Saints’ Day, one may wonder what is the history of Halloween? And what is the origin of All Saints’ Day? I gleaned the following from an article by the CompellingTruth.org Newsletter:

The origins of Halloween, like those of many holidays, are somewhat obscure. The term “Halloween” is a contraction of “All Hallows’ Eve” referring to the night before All Saints’ Day — a celebration of saints observed by Catholicism and some of the more liturgical denominations of Protestantism.

As All Saints’ Day in Western Christianity is Nov. 1, Halloween is Oct. 31. It’s believed the first All Saints’ Day occurred in May of 609 or 610. The Byzantine Emperor Phocis donated the Pantheon of Rome to the Roman Catholic Church. Pope Boniface IV consecrated the building, turning the pagan temple for all Roman gods into the Church of Saint Mary and the Martyrs. The church ordained an annual feast day in celebration, which was held at different times of the year across Europe until Pope Gregory III settled on Nov. 1 in 835.

The association of All Saints’ Day with other pagan festivals is unclear, but seems to be based on the date and the focus on the dead. Lemuria was a Roman festival wherein people would exorcise ghosts of the dead from their homes; it occurred the same day as the Pantheon dedication. The October/November date is marked by the Gaelic Samhain.

It was believed that the door to the otherworld was open on this night. Families welcomed the dead by leaving room at their tables, but disguised themselves from more malevolent spirits by wearing costumes or turning their clothes inside-out. To bribe the faeries for favour, food was left at the doorstep, and to ward them off, turnips were carved into lanterns. People also went door-to-door to ask for food or firewood for the bonfire feasts — the inspiration for trick-or-treating.

Whether Roman, Catholic, or Celtic, All Saints’ Day’s roots are firmly set in the global phenomenon known collectively as the festival of the dead. Ancient cultures from across Europe, Asia, and the Americas set aside time, often after the harvest, to remember and/or venerate their deceased ancestors. Some celebrations were designed to fondly remember loved ones and draw their spirits to visit family. Others were meant to cleanse the spirits of the dead from the places of the living. In churches that believe in purgatory, All Saints’ Day is used to pray that the souls in purgatory can be released to heaven.

Although aspects that we associate with Halloween have been around for centuries, they didn’t grow together into the holiday we know until fairly recently. Mummers, or guises, were acting troupes that wandered about and performed in disguise since the Middle Ages. Carved vegetable lanterns marked the time of the harvest. Trick-or-treating as we recognize it was first recorded in Scotland in 1895 and in North America in 1911.

For Christians today, there is nothing biblical about Halloween. For instance, the Bible does not give any instruction for the exorcism of homes.

The feast of All Saints was instituted by the church to remember the martyrs and faithful Christians who now rest with Christ. We do not remember their own righteousness, but the work of Christ in their lives that produced the reward they now enjoy.

At the same time, many of the traditions of Halloween have lost their original meaning to the point that they are biblically neutral. Dressing in costume, begging for candy, and bobbing for apples are far enough removed from their pagan inspirations that they should not be offensive for Christians.

For sure, the numerous children dashing from door-to-door on Halloween pursuing treats are not in any way a part of the sinister occult practices that occur on that evening and throughout the year. For me, the two are not connected and the children have always been “treated” at our door on Halloween.

And for All Saints’ Day we rejoiced in the work of Christ in our lives and the lives of the dearly departed and look forward to that day in the future when we rejoice with them face to face.

Blessings!

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