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Some things to consider about All Hallows Eve

By By the Rev. Philip Wottrich / special to The Star
Oct. 18, 2003
In 27 B.C., Agrippa built the Pantheon in Rome in honor of Augustus' victory at Actium and dedicated it to Jupiter, the Roman god of the sea.
By the turn of the seventh century, the Pantheon was one of the few remaining old heathen temples and, in 607, the Roman Emperor Phocas presented it to Pope Boniface IV, who quickly removed the statues of Jupiter and other pagan gods and consecrated it to "all the saints" who had died in the early years of the Christian church from Roman persecutions. Dedicated May 13, 609 (or 610), a procession of 28 carriages brought the bones of martyrs to the church from various cemeteries.
In the first centuries of the Christian church, so many martyrs died for the faith that the church had set aside special days to honor them. In years following the dedication of this church to "all the saints" ("all hallows" in Old English), a festival of All Hallows in remembrance of all martyrs of the Christian faith spread throughout the Western part of the Roman Empire.
New date of celebration
In the eighth century, Pope Gregory II moved the festival of All Hallows from May 13 to Nov. 1, in part to substitute for the popular ancient pagan celebration of the Celtic New Year, which honored both the sun god and Samhain, Lord of the Dead.
The Celts believed that at the new year, the dead came back to mingle among the living. They were greeted with tables loaded with food. After feasting, masked and costumed villagers, representing the souls of the dead, marched to the outskirts of town leading away the ghosts. Horses, sacred to the sun god, were sacrificed. There are also records of some human sacrifices during the festival.
Druid priests instructed people to extinguish their fires and make sacrifices to Samhain, Lord of Death. They gathered around a fire of sacrifice a "sacred fire" and took the fire to rekindle their own hearts. A vegetable was carved out and used to carry the fire home. Irish children carved out large rutabagas, turnips, or potatoes and placed candles inside of them. Later, in America, pumpkins became the vegetable of choice.
America joins
in observance
During the first 200 years after the pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock, Halloween (a variant of "All Hallows' Eve") was not observed in America.
It was during the large Irish immigration of the 1840s that the observance of Halloween came to our American shores.
Now at the beginning of the 21st century, Halloween has become one of the most profitable days of celebration, above the celebration of the Resurrection of our Lord (Easter), above the celebration of Thanksgiving and second only to the celebration of Christmas.
In the Lutheran church, while many of our children are enthralled with Halloween, we focus on the celebration of the Reformation of the Church (known to most Protestant Christians as the Protestant Reformation).
On Halloween 1517, Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg. His timing was significant.
Like the Pantheon centuries earlier, the Castle Church held the largest collection of Christian relics outside of Rome. Pieces of bones from saints, locks of hairs from martyrs, a splinter from "the true cross," a twig "from Moses' burning bush," "bread from the Last Supper," a veil "sprinkled with the blood of Christ" all were exhibited for veneration on All Hallows' Day.
The Roman Catholic church of the day held that venerating all the relics at the Castle Church would shorten a soul's stay in purgatory by 1,902,202 years and 270 days.
This was one of the teachings that Luther challenged in his 95 Theses. Knowing there would be many people coming on All Hallows' Day to venerate these relics, Luther posted his 95 Theses there on the prior evening, Halloween.
Luther challenged the scholars of the church to debate the virtues of indulgences. He proclaimed the free and gratuitous forgiveness of sins, not by relic veneration, papal pardons, or indulgences, but by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Betrayal of God
I admit that I and my family sometimes participate in the custom of dressing up for Halloween and giving out candy. I cannot agree with the position that all who do so are demonists and partaking in pagan rituals.
However, here is a rather sobering warning from a publication of the Eastern tradition, Orthodox Life: "From an Orthodox Christian point of view, participation in these practices at any level is impossible and idolatrous, a genuine betrayal of our God and our holy faith. For if we participate in the ritual activity of imitating the dead by dressing up in their attire or by wandering about in the dark, or by begging with them, then we have willfully sought fellowship with the dead, whose lord is not Samhain, as the Celts believed, but Satan, the evil one, who stands against God." (From Orthodox Life, Vol. 43, No. 5).
My aim is neither to promote nor to stomp out the popular observance of Halloween. My intention is only to pass along information I believe is worthy of consideration.
Adapted by Rev. Philip Wottrich, pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, from "Christian History Institute's Glimpses of People, Events, Life and Faith from the Church across the Ages," Issue 70,