The Hallowing of Hallowe’en
“In the carnival celebrations of All Hallows’ Eve our ancestors used the most powerful weapon in the human arsenal, the power of humor and ridicule to confront the power of death. The following day, in the commemoration of All Saints, we gave witness to the victory of incarnate goodness embodied in remarkable deeds and doers triumphing over the misanthropy of darkness and devils.” [Sam Portraro, Brightest and Best : A Companion to the Lesser Feasts and Fasts, 1998:Cowley Publications]
A martyr is a person who dies for his or her faith. A martyr chooses death rather than deny faith in Jesus Christ. (In recent years, there has been an increase of persecution and martyrdom of Christians. More Christians have died for their faith in the last century than in all previous centuries combined.) A large number of Christians were martyred in the first three centuries, especially under the Roman caesar/emperor, Diocletian.
At first, the anniversary of each martyr’s death was honored. Since there were so many Christians being murdered, it eventually became impractical to keep each of these holy days. A common day was selected to honor the deaths of all martyrs as well as the death of John the Baptist. The date was originally on the Sunday after Pentecost, later it was celebrated a week after Good Friday.
Later in Church history, the festival was changed to include all saints. In the late 700’s, Charlemagne adjusted the calendar and solemnized November 1 as a festival of all the saints.
“…but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, “Be holy, for I am holy.” [First Peter 1:15,16]
The word “saint” is from Latin sanctus which means “holy” or “sanctified”. The New Testament teaches that all believers in Jesus Christ are made holy, or sanctified, and should live holy lives. Many modern churches honor All Saints Day as a day to reflect on those members, past or present, who have died and are with the Lord. It is similar to our American tradition of Decoration Day or Memorial Day.
The evening before the festival of all the saints was a time to prepare to honor the dead. The word “hallow” is from Middle English hallowen which means “to make holy” or “sanctify”. It became known as “All Hallows’ Eve” or “Hallow Even” or “Hallowe’en”. Halloween means Holy Evening. It is a time of merriment and joking before the solemn days to follow. When Christianity spread through Europe, the festival picked up some of the games and harvest festival traditions of those people.
It is significant that Martin Luther chose this day, All Hallows’ Eve, October 31, 1517, to post his 95 Theses against indulgences on the door of the Castle Church of Wittenberg. At that time, indulgences were being sold by the church to remove the punishment of sins from those that were dead.
As time has passed, All Hallows’ Eve has evolved to include some non-biblical traditions, such as the veneration of saints or the placation of demonic spirits. Some people go so far as to celebrate it in honor of the devil instead of memorializing the deaths of those who believe in Jesus Christ.