What has happened for centuries on All Saints’ Eve – or Halloween – is quite simple. God’s people act out a drama – a drama in which the demonic realm tries one last time to achieve victory, but is seen for what it really is. What is the means by which the demonic realm is seen for what it is? In a word: mockery. According to the Bible, the devil’s great sin (and our great sin) is pride. And so, to remind themselves of Satan and the evil realm’s ultimate defeat because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, Christians ridicule them. In fact, this is why the Medieval custom arose of portraying Satan in a ridiculous red suit with horns and a tail. Nobody thought that the devil really looked like this; indeed, the Bible teaches that he is a fallen arch-angel. Rather, the idea of portraying him in this way is to ridicule him because he has lost the battle with Jesus and he no longer has power over us.
Similarly, on Halloween, the custom arose of mocking the demonic realm by dressing children in costumes. Because the power of Satan has been broken once and for all, children can mock him by dressing up like ghosts, goblins, and witches. The fact that Christians dressed up their children in this way shows our supreme confidence in the utter defeat of Satan by Jesus Christ – there is no fear!
This same principle explains the emergence of another phenomenon. If you go up to old churches, you’ll often see gargoyles: grotesque little figures attached to the outside of the building. Again, there’s a lot of misunderstanding today about why gargoyles were originally included on these building. Again, they had the same meaning as the original meaning of Halloween. They symbolized God’s people ridiculing the enemy. They stick out their tongues and make faces at those who would assault God’s people. Gargoyles represent Christians ridiculing the defeated demonic army.
Some will know that 31st October not only marks Halloween but also Reformation Day. This is no accident. After all we have seen that the defeat of evil and of demonic powers is associated with Halloween. And it was for this reason that Martin Luther posted his 95 challenges to the wicked practices of the Church at the time to the bulletin board on the door of the Wittenberg chapel on Halloween. He picked his day with care, and ever since Halloween has also been Reformation Day.
It’s true that many articles in books, magazines, and encyclopedias would have a very different explanation of Halloween. But you need to note that these are written by secular humanists or even the pop-pagans of the so-called “New Age” movement. These people actively suppress the Christian associations of historic customs, and try to magnify the pagan associations. They have a strong agenda make paganism acceptable and to downplay Christianity. Thus Halloween, Christmas, Easter, etc., are said to have pagan origins. In fact, this is not true.
It is fair to say that the real meaning of Halloween has – somewhat like Christmas or Easter – been misunderstood, commercialized and absorbed beyond recognition into popular culture. We had a 3-year-old cyber man come trick-or-treating last year. I’m sure he had no idea about the real meaning behind Halloween. It’s also true that, like anything else, the custom of Halloween can be twisted. There have been times when “tricking” has involved really mean actions by teenagers and has led Halloween to even get banned in some towns. The popular rise of ‘designer paganism’ has further twisted the meaning of Halloween. Dabbling with evil is considered cool. I remember being at school and some lads choosing Halloween night to dabble in playing with a Ouija Board. The Bible says: steer clear of the occult – not only because the hopes it holds out are nonsense, but also because it is dangerous. Yes, there are quacks out there – but there is also a dangerous reality. And you potentially open yourself up to serious consequences by dabbling in these things.
For this reason, some Christians are uneasy with celebrating Halloween today. They know that evil is dangerous, that the devil hates them and is out to ruin them, and they don’t want to even give the impression that evil is worth dabbling with. And so they make a decisive break with Halloween. That’s their decision, and I believe it should be respected. But we should not forget that originally Halloween was a Christian custom, and we should not forget the claims that stand behind it.
We live in a world that is very obviously broken. It is a world of so much goodness – yet it is also very obviously broken. The Bible traces this brokenness at source to the evil in the human heart. That is what has left the world subject to disease, to evil, even to death. Some of us here know only too well just how evil a place the world can be, and how evil the human heart can be. The good news of the Bible is that God will not let evil have the last say in his Universe, yet he has made a way through Jesus of making it possible to enjoy life with him – even though we have added to this evil. Those that trust Jesus are not only forgiven of all their evil, but start a relationship with God that nothing – no evil power, not even death – can rob from them. One Bible verse puts it like this: “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.” As they mourned their dead friends and relatives but remembered that whilst dead these friends were safe, asleep in Jesus, no wonder the early Christians wanted celebrate the victory over the evil realm they had in Jesus. As we approach Halloween ourselves this year, may each of us have cause to reflect on Halloween’s original meaning and what it means for us.