Short answer: It can be.
The word “Hallowe’en” comes from “All Hallows Eve.”
Hallowed means holy, as in “hallowed be thy name.”
Thus “All Hallows” is another way to say “All the Holies” aka “All Saints Day” which is celebrated on November 1st.
Since we can’t possibly know all of the people who are in heaven, we lump them all together into All Saints Day.
But why All Hallows’ EVE?
Just like Star Wars and Apple fans like to line up on the night before the actual release date, Catholics just can’t wait for the actual day of something. We have all these “Vigil” days where we celebrate the evening before, often with crazy outfits and candles and sometimes even prayers, hence “All Hallows’ Eve.”
But we don’t just remember all the holy people!
There’s evil in the world, too.
Just turn on the news and it’s in your face.
On the Eve of All Hallows, we remember that everyone–saint or otherwise–has a choice between good and evil.
And obviously, the best way to purge your evil desires is to dress like a demon and scare people, right?
(Side note: there’s a psychological and sociological benefit to “purging” rituals where you create a safe space to vent your undesired urgings. Another great Christian example of this purging is “Carnival” or “Fat Tuesday” where you party before Ash Wednesday and Lent.)
Thus beyond the superficial “trick or treat” of Halloween is the potential for a real spiritual message.
Each of us has a very real choice of being “tricked” into hatred, vice and death or choosing to “treat” one another as loving neighbors.
Some folks claim Hallowe’en is not a Christian holiday because it was intentionally celebrated at the same time as the pagan fall harvest festivals.
There is truth to that claim.
But if you can’t celebrate Hallowe’en, then you need to remember that every single Christian holiday has the same problem.
- Easter was originally during the Jewish liberation feast of Passover. As Christianity spread it co-opted the eggs and rabbits from the Babylonian goddess of the Sun, Ishtar, among other traditions.
- Christmas was celebrated during the Roman feast of Saturnalia. As Christianity spread, it co-opted various winter solstice traditions from around the Northern hemisphere.
You see, Christianity is in many ways the least original religion of all time. It comes in to new spaces, and says, “Oh hey, tell me more about that. That’s pretty cool. Here’s how I would do that in light of my relationship with Jesus…”
Christianity tends to be counter-cultural…
…but that doesn’t mean culture-destroying.
Not all Christians have been gentle, but I would argue that Christianity has largely spread as an organic force, just as Jesus described: a seed that grows, a yeast that rises within. Organic cultural contact is an irrevocable element of being human, and an inevitable part of being religious.
Still, there are limits when “organic” turns to “toxic.” Christianity can only grow as long as it values and redeems the lives and symbols and societies it touches.
Following Jesus does change everything!
But that change comes by transforming our lives with a deeper sense of meaning and purpose, not merely by external traditions (or their rejection).
I get this idea from the way Jesus described the Kingdom of Heaven as:
- yeast in the dough
- salt (a preservative)
- a seed that grows hidden in the earth
- a treasure hidden in a field
In light of this “hidden treasure,” how would Jesus view Halloween as it is practiced today?
I imagine He would chide some of its excesses (I mean, do we really need to make every female costume “sexy”?).
But would He declare every last decoration and celebration as inherently evil? I don’t think so. He might even turn some apple juice into hard cider.
Jesus could have created armies from his followers, but He did not choose to dominate and conquer Herod or Pilate or Caesar. Instead He asks us to repent of our own free will. He asks us to choose to return to the path of forgiveness and mercy.
Sometimes the people in authority listen, sometimes not, and all the time imperfectly. That’s why He reminds us not just to follow outer laws, but to reform our inner law and motivations:
Love God with all your mind, heart and strength.
Love your neighbor as yourself.
But we struggle to live that out in our every day choices.
Which explains why All Souls’ Day (or Dia de los Muertos) follows All Saints Day and All Hallows’ Eve (aka Hallowe’en).
Because not all the dead are holy.
On Oct 31st we remember evil,
on Nov 1st we revere holiness,
and on Nov 2nd we remember all our beloved dead.
We remember the Most of Humanity who left this world somewhere in between, those who made good and bad choices in this life.
These three holidays challenge us to remember and pray for All Souls, known and unknown.
So is Hallowe’en a Christian holiday? It can be.
Like any day of the year, it can be thoroughly secular: lived only for the material goods of costumes and candy and decorations.
But if you want to celebrate All Hallows’ Eve as a Christian holiday, then I say “Trick or Treat,” friends.
Avoid the tricks of evil, and treat each other well.
Christians have many hundreds of years of Hallowe’en traditions to draw from, so enjoy wearing costumes, purging inner demons, and sharing the sweetness of neighborly hospitality.
As you enjoy, I also invite you to join me in the challenge of remembering the central Christian message of this day, and passing it on to our children:
YOU have the choice between good or evil, between love or hatred of neighbor, between worship or mockery of God.
When we remember the dead, holy or not, we remember our own mortality, that we have one brief and beautiful life in which to choose our path.
May you have a Blessed All Hallows’ Eve. And may all your days be blessed.