What Are We Celebrating When We Celebrate Halloween?

Most people only know about the candy, the costumes, the Jack-o-lanterns, and other things that go bump in the night. They don’t want to skip Halloween because it is so much fun for the kids. When I was in Romania, there were people who questioned whether I should be celebrating Halloween because they saw people dressed as devils, as ghosts, as skeletons, etc. They wondered if it was a holiday that Christians should celebrate. When I was teaching at Ohio University, I had a student who thought she was a witch, and she wrote an essay about Halloween being a special holiday for witches when they set a place at the table for their dead relatives, and only on that night, their dead relatives could join them. She didn’t realize it, but she was referring to Samhain, a Druid holiday that happened several times a year in old England before Christianity came to England. However, Halloween is only one time a year, not four times a year. If we want to understand what Halloween is, we need to go to the meaning of the name. The old name for Halloween is “All Halo’s Eve.”

We all know from “Christmas Eve” that “Eve” means the day before. This means that “All Halo’s Eve” is the day before a very holy day. That very holy day is October first. If you are in England, you will know that October first is considered “All Saints’ Day.” All Saints’ Day is the day that the English celebrate the fact that Christianity came to England and they all became Christians. If you read the Bible, a saint is a Christian. If you are a saint, it means that you have been set aside for God. If you read the book of Philippians in the Bible, it is addressed to “all the saints” in Philippi which means all the Christians in Philippi. A saint in the Bible is not a dead person like the Catholic and Orthodox churches teach, but a Christian. When the British celebrate “All Saints’ Day,” they are celebrating that the are all Christians. When they used to celebrate “All Halo’s Eve,” they were celebrating the day before “All Saints’ Day.”

We have to wonder where all the ghosts and goblins come come into a holiday when they are celebrating that they all became Christians. The British love theater. When I was a little girl in England, they put me in a crepe paper dress and put me on the stage at the community center and had me singing. Theater is a big English tradition. They used to dress in costumes and go from house to house putting on plays. It was called Mummer’s theater. Halloween was one of those times they went from house to house in costumes putting on plays. Why did they choose the particular scary costumes that they chose?

The ghosts, goblins, witches, etc. are part of the old Druid religion, the religion of England before Christianity came. The witches were old women who sat around big bonfires telling stories on Halloween. The witches did voodoo. When I read the novel “Return of the Native” by Thomas Hardy, the setting was old England. There were witches in his novel who were making voodoo dolls trying to control people and also sitting around the big bonfires telling stories. The Jack-o-lantern was one of the stories they told. A man named Jack offended the devil, so he was condemned to walking the earth every October 31st for eternity. Probably, Jack became a Christian, so he began celebrating All Halo’s Eve. That would offend the devil. They didn’t use pumpkins to make the Jack-o-lantern in the beginning, but a large turnip. The Druid priest used to tell scary stories to try to control the people with fear. They told stories like “the Three Billy Goats Gruff.” There was a troll under the bridge that kept everyone in fear. If you think about a lot of the very old English stories, they may be called “fairy tales,” but are usually downright scary. That is how the Druids controlled the people.

If you read the original tales of King Arthur, the Druids were the bad guys. There is one particular one about a Druid breaking into the castle at night and stabbing one of King Arthur’s servants who slept in the castle that night because the next day King Arthur and his servant were going out looking for the Holy Grail. Many people think that the Holy Grail was the cup that Christ drank from. The cup that Christ drank from is a life dedicated to God, a life of sacrifice and love of others, a life of Christianity. The Druids were trying to stop Christianity from getting into the palace. The Druid priests were the bad guys. They ruled the people with fear, and they weren’t ready to give up their place in society when Christianity came in.

On All Halo’s Eve, the people were celebrating that they didn’t have to be scared of the Druids and all their crazy stories any more because Christianity had come. Since they liked costumes so much, they dressed up as the crazy things from the old Druid religion and went around joking and seeing if they could scare one another. All the costumes and scaring one another was just them playing with one another. When the people from the Mummer’s theater went from house to house, they people gave them good food like cakes and fruit as a reward for their plays. Halloween was just a big game the English played. On All Halo’s Eve, they played the games, and on All Saints’ Day, the next day, all the costumes were put away. All was right with the world because God was in control, not the Druids. They were ruled by love and not by fear. That is truly something to celebrate.

They were completely serious about being happy that the Druids were gone because the Druids had them so scared that expressions like “scared to death” came into being because people were actually scared so hard that it stopped their hearts. It was a time of fear and superstition. I have seen that kind of fear when I lived in Nigeria because they still have Juju men, men who are supposed to do magic just like the witches did. The Juju men rule people just like the Druids did. At the market place one day, I saw a Juju man. He was barely dressed. He had on a crazy wig and just a lion cloth. He was throwing something that caused puffs of smoke and scaring the people. They were all around him watching him. They were scared to death if he pointed in their direction, and the crowd would back up when he pointed in fear. I have a missionary friend who said he actually saw a Juju man point at a man on a Friday, and by Monday, the man was dead. The doctor’s diagnosis was that he was literally “scared to death.” This is how hard of a hold the Druids had over the English people. They really had something to celebrate when Christianity came. Those Juju men, witches, and Druids only have the power that we give them. If we don’t believe in them, they can’t scare us to death. When Christianity came, the people believed in God, the God of love, not of fear.

The English also always had a bonfire the evening of All Halo’s Eve. A bonfire is a huge, huge fire where everyone gathers. The British still do the bonfires. When they came to America, they were still doing the bonfires, but they weren’t using the costumes anymore. After they got to America, they figured out the pumpkins worked better than the turnips as Jack-o-lanterns because they were bigger. After a while, they stopped doing the bonfires in America. The Irish were still using the costumes on All Halo’s Eve. When the Irish came to America, they brought their costumes with them, and the Americans loved the costumes, so they began using them too. The Americans have no idea what they are doing when they dawn those costumes except that they are having a good time. They don’t know the origin of the holiday or what they are celebrating at all. They just think they are having a big party that is fun, and they would never not celebrate because they want the kids to have the fun of dressing up and eating candy.

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