As the crisp autumn air arrives, pumpkins, candy, and creepy costumes fill the stores and remind us that Halloween is approaching. The excitement is palpable as plywood ghosts and gravestones litter the lawns of otherwise normal neighborhoods. Amidst this macabre merrymaking, dying leaves glow gold as they fall to the earth and decaying grasses dance with chimney smoke to make what Dr. Seuss once called a “sour-sweet wind,” reminding us that, even in its beauty, this world is broken and enduring death.
For many of us, the gradual disappearance of daylight during this season brings about a darkness scarier than any spooky story fit for the season: the kind which troubles our very mind and soul. As daytime shortens, our ensuing depression causes us a struggle to function or to find any joy in our relationships, even with God. It is far easier to rest on instant gratification than to pursue holiness, to engage in escapism rather than worship. Perhaps this is why it is appropriate that Halloween falls at the cusp of such a season.
At Halloween, decorations and costumes surround us depicting ghosts, goblins, devils, and the like. We get a visual illustration of something we know from scripture to be real, but often fail to recognize in our everyday lives: we are fighting a real battle. Our battle is against “the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12). Halloween reminds us, as Paul does in Ephesians 6, to be on guard against these forces and to robe ourselves in the “armor of God” against them. Fuller Seminary’s Richard Mouw remarks:
...Halloween is one important occasion for reminding ourselves that the power of the Evil One is still with us. Scary faces will not keep him at bay. But they can be a reminder of the need to be on guard against his wiles. With all of our advanced technologies, we still have not found automatic ways to resist him. The struggle is a spiritual one, but sometimes spiritual battles can be assisted by visible reminders of the Enemy’s presence. After all, Luther threw ink bottles at the Devil, even though he did not really think he could hit him! With that in mind, we should feel free to carve some scary faces on some pumpkins this time of year.
Still, if Halloween only warned of the evil that continues to manifest itself in our world, it would be a scary holiday, indeed. However, Halloween—or All Hallows Eve—was initially placed in the Christian calendar as merely the evening before All Hallows Day, also known as All Saints Day, which was then followed by All Souls Day as part of Hallowtide. First commemorated in the eighth century A.D., All Saints and All Souls jointly celebrates all of the Christian souls who passed into glory before us. It reminds us of God’s persistent faithfulness to our forbearers through their trials and storms. In the words of William How’s classic hymn, “For All the Saints” sung often in Hallowtide:
Thou wast their Rock, their Fortress, and their Might;
Thou, Lord, their Captain in the well-fought fight;
Thou, in the darkness drear, their one true Light.
It is fitting, then, to let the full message of Hallowtide preach to us of Christ’s ultimate victory of Satan, sin, and death, and the inauguration of his Kingdom. We recognize as we see faux devils lining the streets that the devil “prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). We even admit the weakness within us, asking in the words of Augustine of Hippo, “Who could avoid encountering the teeth of this lion if the lion from the tribe of Judah had not conquered?” (Sermons 263). However, Scripture assures us of the very fact that the Lion of Judah has conquered, and is establishing his Kingdom, where Satan is vanquished, and where sin and our current frailty will be no more. ”See,” Jesus assures us, “I am making all things new” (Rev. 21:5).
Taken together with the rest of Hallowtide, then, Halloween assures us of the ultimate comfort in our times of darkness. It tells us that, though Satan’s forces still rage against us, and even our frail bodies and minds are still plagued by this world’s ills, Christ preserves his people from generation to generation, until the consummation of his Kingdom.
Jacob A. Davis is a writer and artist living in Louisville, Kentucky. Originally from the small mountain town of Ellijay, Georgia, he holds a Bachelor of Arts in English and a Master of Arts in Theology & Arts. His musings on art, literature, theology, and liturgy can be found at www.jacobadavis.com.