At the end of October, many people will celebrate Halloween, which has grown into a major secular holiday in our American culture. This has led to a concern among many Christians that things have gotten out of hand. After all, doesn’t Halloween glorify evil?
Maybe for some people it does, but in this series, I hope to show this holiday actually emphasizes the Christian saints whose nearly forgotten feast day is the reason for Halloween.
Let’s begin by looking at the word Halloween: Hallow is the same word for “holy” that we find in the Lord’s Prayer, and e’en is a contraction of the word “evening.” Thus, the word Halloween means “holy-evening” which is a shortened form of “All Hallows Eve,” - the night before All Saints Day. This holiday or “holy-day,” if properly understood and celebrated, can be a way for us to deepen our understanding of our faith. The key is to see our love for God reflected in the Communion of Saints.
Of course, “communion” is a word we often use for the Eucharist. (The Greek word koinonia means “common union” or “shared fellowship”). The common union of the early Christians was their baptism into what Paul called “the Body of Christ,”—this was also their entrance into the Communion of Saints, a fellowship of all the souls in Christ, both in this life and in everlasting life after death.
Before the New Testament books even took shape, the Christians’ human desire to remember deceased loved ones surfaced. But, these were no ordinary loved ones; these were brothers and sisters who had died in Christ, as witnesses to the faith. (The Greek word martyr means, “witness”) The martyr’s death was a victory, not a defeat; a time for celebration, not for mourning. Thus, early Christians gathered on the anniversary of a martyr’s death to remember it the way they knew best: with the “breaking of the bread” at the celebration of the Eucharist.
Naturally the early Christians shared the stories of the martyrs when they gathered together to “break bread” and to remember the sacrifice of Christ, in order to inspire each other at a time when witnessing to the truth of the faith meant suffering persecution and more martyrdom. Anniversaries of local and well-known martyrs soon filled the calendar. Then a good question arose: What honor should be given to martyrs whose names were unknown? After all, many anonymous Christians were thrown to the lions or put to death in other ways for witnessing to their faith.
Next week we will look at how the answer to this question led to the Feast of All Saints and how that celebration grew with the help of some tricks and treats.