Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Halloween and All Saints Day – Part II

For more on the origins of Halloween, please see Part I in an earlier post.

All Saints Day

Do you know which Christian holy day comes the day after Halloween? All Saints Day comes on November 1, the day after Samhain. Early in the Christian era, a day had been set aside to honor believers who had gone before and who were good role models of faith. During persecutions, many of these early Christians had died for their faith or held on to their faith despite torture and the threat of death. There were waves of persecutions against Christians in the Roman Empire during the first 300 years before Constantine legalized Christianity (Edict of Milan in 313).

This Christian day of remembrance of the departed believers originally took place in the spring. As Christianity spread to northern Europe and the British Isles, it encountered the Celtic celebration of Samhain. The early church leaders had a practice of establishing the date of church holy days to correspond with various competing pagan celebrations (we get the English term “holiday” from “holy day”).

For example, not knowing the date of Jesus’ birth, church leaders decided to celebrate the incarnation of God in Jesus on December 25, the time when the Romans celebrated a festival called “Saturnalia.” The intent was that early Christians would celebrate Christ’s birth on December 25 rather than a pagan holiday. Of course Christmas took on some of the outward practices of Saturnalia, such as gift-giving, just as Easter took on some of the practices of pagan spring festivals.

To suppress the practice of Samhain in newly-converted northern Europe, church leaders decided to move All Saints Day from its earlier celebration in the spring to November 1. The eve of a holiday had importance in those days (as it does even now to some extent – such as Christmas Eve). The church leaders hoped that the celebrations on the eve of All Saints Day, called All Hallows Eve, would result in Samhain dying out.

Hallowed (or hallow) is an old English word for “holy” or “sacred” such as in “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name” (from the Germanic heilig and the Anglo-Salon halig, from which we get hale, holy and hallow). So the term “Halloween” means “Holy Evening” although it isn’t particularly holy now. Many of the practices of ancient Samhain have been incorporated into Halloween, making it something less than holy.

The ancient practices of Samhain remain, but their meaning is no longer relevant to most people. Today it is just a time for kids to dress up in costumes and get candy from their neighbors. Unfortunately, All Saints Day has become a minor Christian holiday. So we are missing the good aspects of the season while retaining some of the ancient Celtic superstitious practices.

Victory over Death

Since this is the week of All Saints Day as well as Halloween, we should take a look at the positive aspects of our faith in contrast to superstition. We should always proclaim the supremacy of Jesus Christ and the Gospel over superstition and erroneous beliefs. I’m amazed at how many people believe that ghosts wander the earth, yet have serious doubts about the Holy Ghost.

As Christians,
·we believe in a real God, the one true God of the Bible;
·we believe in Jesus Christ, his Son, a real person who lived among us;
·we believe in the Holy Ghost, who lives within us and guides us;
·and we believe we get to heaven because of our faith and trust in Jesus, not thru various acts, rituals, or superstitions.

Atheists and agnostics often believe religion is superstition, and unfortunately Christianity degenerated into superstition in medieval (and even later) times. However, true Christianity is not at all superstitious, but is in reality a relationship with the Living God. We have rites and ceremonies, but they are outward signs of inward grace. If we place our faith in rites, rituals, and sacraments, then our faith is misplaced. For Christians, our faith should be focused on Jesus Christ, not on anything else, no matter how worthwhile it may seem to be.

Eternal life is offered to all as a free gift for those who choose to believe that Jesus died on the cross on our behalf to reconcile imperfect people to a perfect God. We may not completely understand how it all works, but we do believe it. We know we have nothing to fear from death, because Jesus promised us eternal life. And once we have passed away, we will be with Jesus in glory, not wandering the earth looking for some sort of relief.

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