Sola Fide or Trick or Treat

Doug Wilson gives a thoughtful historical and insightful response to the celebration of Halloween:

As another Halloween approaches, and as many of us are working on building alternatives, I wanted to take the opportunity to offer a few thoughts and pastoral suggestions.

Here is the background. First, November 1 is All Saints Day. The All Saints festival was first established during the times of persecution in the early church when the number of martyrs accumulated to the point where it was no longer possible to commemorate them all. In the time of John Chrysostom, all the martyrs were remembered on the first Sunday after Pentecost. In 608 A.D., the Pantheon, a former pagan temple to all the gods, was dedicated in Rome as a Christian church. The date of that dedication (May 13) became the day of "all saints." The day was moved to November 1 in 741 A.D. with the dedication of the Chapel of All Saints.

Second, in the British Isles, the day was known as All Hallows Day. The "eve" of that day, the night before, was known as Hallowe’en. In the minds of simple people, the night before the day of the holy ones was thought to be a last ditch party on the part of unholy ones — devils, witches, fairies, imps and so forth. With this kind of superstition, of course, we have nothing to do. Obviously, the custom of kids dressing up in order to play trick or treat did descend from this view, but the thing that is objectionable here is not the dressing up in itself, or the consumption of candy, but rather the dressing up as wicked creatures.

Third, Reformation Day is on October 31 and commemorates the posting of Luther’s famous theses, which is usually regarded as the inauguration of the Reformation. It is frequently honored by churches on the last Sunday of October. As it happens, Reformation Day is also Halloween.

Fourth, and the bottom line for us, is that both of these two days belong to the Christian church, and not to the pagans. And the days have been ours for many centuries, despite certain pagan encroachments of late. We should keep the days, and fight off the encroachments. And so . . .

Here are a few things to do: We are encouraging parishes to hold Reformation Day/All Saints Day parties and gatherings. The mood should be festive and filled with rejoicing — an exhibition of our gratitude for the faithfulness of the martyrs of the early church and the martyrs of the Reformation. This obviously can (and should) include kids dressing up and getting boatloads of candy, but I would strongly urge that no one have their kids dress up as members of the other team — witches, ghosts, devils, imps, or congressmen. We do want to urge a high level of celebration, but we don’t want to take our cues from the surrounding culture. So if you take your kid around to grandma’s house dressed up like a red M & M, or like Theodore Beza, don’t have them say trick or treat the same way some ghost or witch would. Of course, repent or perish or sola fide probably wouldn’t work either. Let’s do this differently, and intelligently, and still have fun. So have them say trick or treat the way a cute M & M would.

What to avoid. We want parish parties, not pious parties. So when neighborhood trick or treaters come to your door, I would encourage you to give them more candy than unbelievers give, as opposed to a glare and/or a tract about the fires of hell. We want to behave during this time in such a way that their celebrations are revealed as far more anemic than ours (not to mention twisted and gross). We do not want our parish parties to be a cheesy alternative, a sort of faux-Halloween. It should be a true All Hallow’s Eve, a true Reformation Day blow-out.

On a related note, there is no way to do this without kirkers differing among themselves about what is appropriate. This is reasonable — up to a point. We know the general direction we want to go, and we want to get there together with unity of spirit. This means learning to lighten up on details. So don’t freak out and rebuke someone if their kid goes over to an aunt’s house dressed like John Knox, but he cackles evilly instead of saying soli Deo gloria. But feel free to be concerned if someone from the Night of the Living Dead shows up at the parish party.