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Brian Rapske Ph.D.

Musings on the Night of All Hallows’ Eve

Tonight is Halloween.

The weather reports in our area give a 60% chance for rain this evening. Visibility will be worse than usual. I expect that we’ll all need to drive home especially carefully in the darkness tonight. Children, normally safe at home after dark, will be costumed and out tonight; more mindful of the prospects of a sack full of goodies than of looking both ways before crossing the street.

We’ve been warned not to allow our children to simply tuck into those goodies; first, check the treats for tampering–needles, razor blades, poisons and such. We’ve also been advised to keep our pets inside and in a room as far away from the doorbell as possible tonight. The noise of constant activity at the door is frightening to them, and youthful inspirations with fireworks have not infrequently led to the terrorizing or maiming of pets.

Costumes will run from the cutest to the most goulish and macabre. The range of revelers will run from infants dressed and carried from house to house by parents all the way to youth and adults, some of whom will themselves need to be carried home tonight.

Police and fire departments will be on higher alert; a few more doctors may be on call and hospital emergency rooms may see an increase in patient traffic.

What is all this edgy celebration about? The night was first celebrated as a high moment in the season of harvest in pagan Gaelic culture, a time of potentially dangerous penetration of the world of the dead into that of the living. Its symbolic expressions and activities represented human machinations to avoid, or at least control, what threatened. The Romans applied their own overlay of harvest celebration and preventative magic and ritualism. Later communities and cultures added their own elements. The Christian celebration of All Hallows’ Eve or All Saints Day on November 1, has done little more than lend its name to the night.

Halloween was not at first conceived as safe; nor is it entirely so today. Its "celebrations" in antiquity were nothing more than the expression of a cyclical reminder of slavery to beggarly forces and principles without permanent remedy; modernity’s continued witless mimicking amounts to the bravado of an uncertain whistling at gathered darkness.

I should think that the preferred recourse of wiser souls, over all the rest of those other souls who celebrate, is a sheltered sleep and anticipation of the breaking dawn and its light. It works practically; it works theologically too!

3 Responses to “Musings on the Night of All Hallows’ Eve”


  • Do you think it is inconsistent to avoid Halloween celebrations because of its pagan roots, but to remind each other each year at Christmas of the problem Christian have with people celebrating without a focus on the Christ? Is Christmas being a national holiday secretly making everyone celebrate the birth of Christ? Perhaps the participation in the celebration has nothing to do with the holiday’s roots, but with the heart of the person who is doing the celebrating.

  • Isn’t it easy to comment for oneself from a distance without a group of children wanting to dart out the door. The issue is, as I see it very easily answered as adults. We can spiritualize it, discuss it even ignore it, until you need to give answers to children and the parents who sit in our pews(chairs in our case)of our churches. Oh, here is where real people live. We, as a church, have sought to redeem the day and offer a fall carnival with candy, games and lots of excitement. The community loves it and strangely enough is not concerned with our theological struggles, but rather real life day to day issues.

  • The point of my piece was to suggest that the earliest celebrations of this night were, from a Christian perspective, rather ill-equipped engagements of hostile spiritual forces–a rather dangerous conceit. In our present day the dread and danger is not so much feared as hyped and celebrated. My thoughts ran to passages that challenge us not to do the deeds of the night, but to be a more wide awake people of the dawning light.

    To that end and in the matter of dealing with clamoring kids who don’t want to be kept from innocent fun, your point is well taken. I may have shown my stage in life; I have two grown daughters who are 28 and 25 years old respectively and no grandchildren!

    Setting creative alternatives for our kids and their friends makes the theological point and in a way that is positive and inviting. I’m not unfamiliar with it. During my first pastorate, our congregation set and advertised in our neighborhood an alternative to going from house to house on Halloween–we called it a Hallelujah Party. There were lots of games and activities and enough goodies for everyone to get a sugar “jump.” The adult sponsors of the event gently insisted on compliance with a couple of rules: 1) that one not wear goulish or frightening masks and 2) that one not misbehave or frighten other children. It was a hit and we were mobbed by kids and their grateful parents! We exported the concept to Scotland years later to our home congregation there–kids and adults participated and there were more than a few Bible characters who showed up, including a Sampson replete with wig, balloon muscles and his Delilah. I won’t say who that was!

    I think that Christmas calls for a similar creative Christian participation even though the pagan elements (trees etc.) have, arguably, lost their “punch” and largely given way to crass, overtly commercial interests. This past Christmas our church, through a number of folks who are involved in a ministry called “Night Shift,” invited street people to join us for a Christmas program and dessert night at the church–20 folks came!

    I’m not for a theologically smug, “Don’t, don’t, don’t!” attitude and expression–its neither good theology nor good Gospel P.R. for our kids or anyone else for that matter!

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