What we call “Halloween” has origin in an ancient Celtic festival to remember the dead called “Samhain.” By the 800s the Celts had become Christian and they “converted” their pagan celebration into a Christian holy day honoring those who had had died and now continued their life in heaven. They called this new synthesized celebration All-hallowmas or All-hallows, meaning All Saints. The night before – the old Samhain – began to be called All-hallows-eve, then finally Halloween.
From ancient times, pagan and Christian, this day commemorates the memory of those who have died. Death of course is a universal human experience, both dealing with the passing of those we love and finally with our own final demise. Death happens.
The difference for Christians, and the fundamental distinction between pagan Samhain and Christian All Saints Day, is that Christians claim evidence for the death of Death. Many religions have myths of gods who die and come back to life. Christians claim that the myth happened in history, that Jesus of Nazareth suffered actual death at the hands of Romans, then three days later in a real time and place returned to life in the same body, now transformed into a new form. For Christians this isn’t myth, it’s myth made history.
A Christian celebration of the Dead (All Saints) is always rooted in hope anchored in history. We really believe. Yes we do. Death for us is still filled with uncertainty and sadness and even grief. It hurts. But it does not terrify or lead us to despair. Paul, the Apostle puts it this way: “Death, where is your sting? Grave, where is your victory?”
Christians have redeemed this ancient time for grief and fear and turned into a time for remembrance and hope. In that form, Thank God for All-hallows Eve.
“God, we thank you for life. We thank you for those who have lived with us and now because of your goodness live in a new way in a new place. This is a season of grief and remembrance and sadness. But because of the victory of Jesus over death, it is not a season for fear or despair. We have hope, because of Jesus’ resurrection that we too will live forever. That fact of faith allows us to rest here and now and enjoy our moments with you here while we have them here. After all, we have forever to enjoy the rest! Remove fear of death in our lives and lead us to trust you for every moment. Thank you God for a Holy All Hallows Eve.”
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