Is Halloween Christian?
What are you going to be for Halloween? Most kids will ask this of one another this October as we get closer the end of the month. Dressing up as a favorite character or scary figure, going out into the dark and receive lots & lots of candy has become an American tradition and kicks-off the Holliday Season. Did you know that Halloween was once a major Christian holiday and commemorated the entire Church community … the martyrs, the current saints of the Church & the saints that have gone before us. The Church holiday commemorated the unity of the whole community of the faithful and still sees the church as the union of all Christian believers, alive and dead.
In the western church, All Saints Day is celebrated on November 1. It is holiday that the Church honors all of God's saints, even those who have not been canonized by the Church. It is a family day of celebration—we celebrate the memory of those family members (sharing with us in the Mystical Body, the doctrine of the Communion of Saints) now sharing eternal happiness in the presence of God. We rejoice that they have reached their eternal goal and ask for their prayers on our behalf so that we, too, may join them in heaven and praise God through all eternity.
In 844, Pope Gregory IV transferred the feast to November 1st, timing it around the harvests to be able to provide food for Christian pilgrims. Pope Sixtus IV in 1484 established November 1 as a holy day of obligation and gave it both a vigil (known today as "All Hallows' Eve" or "Hallowe'en") and an eight-day period or octave to celebrate the feast.
In England, saints or holy people are called "hallowed", hence the name "All Hallows’ Day". The evening, or "e'en" before the feast became popularly known as "All Hallows' Eve" or even shorter, "Hallowe'en".
Many recipes and traditions have come down for this evening, "All Hallows’ Eve" (now known as Halloween), such as pancakes, boxty bread and boxty pancakes, barmbrack (Irish fruit bread with hidden charms), colcannon (combination of cabbage and boiled potatoes). This was also known as "Nutcrack Night" in England, where the family gathered around the fire to enjoy cider and nuts and apples. In England "soul cakes" are another traditional food. People would go begging for a "soul cake" and promise to pray for the donor's departed friends and family in exchange for the treat, an early version of today's "Trick or Treat."
Lately it seems that Halloween is year round. There are so many shows, toys and video games that include Zombies. If you haven’t noticed, Zombies have taken over. The Walking Dead, a show about Zombies created from a comic book with the same name, has become extremely popular and is currently leading much of pop-culture. This year, we will have many zombies knocking on our doors for a treat on Halloween. I like to sometimes challenge our youth and tell them that the Orthodox Church as its own version of the dead that we call saints … except these dead do acts of kindness and holiness as opposed to death and destruction. I like to bring up St. Gerasimos from the Island of Kefalonia. Saint Gerasimos is believed by natives of Kefalonia to protect them and to also heal them of illness. Many natives of the island name their children after Saint Gerasimos as a tribute to the saint who protects them.
The body of Saint Gerasimos is at the monastery, made available for veneration as it has never decomposed. After his death, his body was buried twice and exhumed intact, thus leading the church to ordain him as a saint. Kefalonians throughout the world still revere and pray to him. In 1953, immediately after a powerful earthquake on the island of Kefalonia, which destroyed 90% of the island, there were many claimed sightings of Saint Gerasimos throughout the island who is believed to have comforted and tended to the injured trapped inside homes and buildings. During the feasts of Saint Gerasimos – August 16th and October 20th f(east of his relics) – his body is passed over ill and sick persons for the purpose of healing them. His body is also displayed by the church during liturgy at the monastery on many occasions.
Halloween seems to have veered quite far from its Christian roots, especially here in America. But celebrating the saints as part of our church and interacting with them as part of our faith is still alive and well. The Saints are praying for us, interceding to Christ on our behalf. And in cases like St. Gerasimos of Kefalonia, the saints even appear and offer comfort in times of destress as vessels of Christ’s healing power. “And the prayers of the saints, ascended before God from the angel’s hand.” Revelation 8:4
Sources: Jennifer Gregory Miller, Catholic Christian Culture, ©2003. Orthodox Wikipedia Encyclopedia, March 2016.
Rev. Fr. Bill Tragus