Reclaiming Hallowtide

October 30th, 2017

For those of us in the northern hemisphere, the days are getting shorter and colder, and the branches on most of the trees are bare of leaves, which means it must be time for Halloween. The secular American celebration of Halloween varies. As children, many of us dressed up in costume and trick-or-treated around the neighborhood, arriving at home with our bags full of tooth-rotting candy. For young adults, Halloween parties might center around alcohol consumption and deliberately provocative costumes. Haunted houses or hayrides or watching scary movies that get our hearts racing might also factor into our observation of Halloween.

Coming from a liturgical tradition, Halloween, or All Hallows’ Eve, was inseparable from the days that followed it — All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day (together, Hallowtide or Hallowmas). While some of the darker and more pagan overtones of Halloween lead some Christians to eschew celebrating Halloween, I believe it has a part to play in our spiritual lives. Halloween can be a time of acknowledging the darkness and the darker spiritual forces around us in a humorous or light-hearted way because we know that they are, essentially, powerless in the face of the God of Jesus Christ.

In many progressive Christian circles, any talk of evil spirits or malevolent spiritual forces is quickly shut-down. Apparently, we can believe in resurrection, in Jesus Christ, even in a virgin birth, but demons are just a bridge too far. On the other side, the language of spiritual warfare can be equally overblown. Not everything is the result of the clash of good and evil, of angels and devils.

It took me some time to accept and even experience for myself the presence of evil spirits. After all, I take pride in being rational and logical. As much as it gets dampened by distractions in modernity, we are also very intuitive. Sometimes, we can just sense that something is wrong, that there is a bad feeling about a place. Other times, a variety of minor nuisances might add up to distract us or try to prevent us from a God-given mission. It’s not as dramatic as in the movies, but Scripture also acknowledges the presence of these darker forces in the spiritual realm.

Perhaps the Church can use Hallowtide to talk about and confront death in the midst of a culture that is so death-averse. Death is the great equalizer, after all, and no money or medicine or possession can prevent it from happening to every one of us. In other time periods and in other cultures, people participated in observances that strike us as morbid today, like festive picnics at or the veneration of the desiccated body parts of saints and martyrs.

Though we might fear death or the presence of evil spirits, the expanse of Hallowtide leads us ultimately to the celebration of the resurrection. We can make fun of these demons and devils because we know that Jesus Christ has defeated them. While our loved ones and the spiritual heroes of our faith are no longer in this world with us, we celebrate their union with God in the next.

There are parts of our secular celebration of Halloween that might make some Christians uncomfortable, but neither should we throw the baby out with the bathwater. We can use this time of year and these celebrations for a different perspective on how we understand death and resurrection. Rather than the bright floral Easter celebration, we get a darker, more somber understanding. Even in these dark days, even when we feel surrounded by death, despair, and demons, we place our hope in God who has conquered evil through Jesus Christ.

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