Is it All About the Candy?

 by Pastor Heath Howe, Family Ministries

I happen to live on one of the busiest streets in Evanston come Halloween. The 1200 block of Hinman Avenue is one of the three hottest blocks to hit if you are looking for good candy. Maybe it's the tree lined street. Maybe it is because apartment dwellers can easily drive up, park, and let their children "hit the houses." Maybe it is because we give out the best candy. All I know is the first year we experienced Halloween on our block, David almost gave out ice as he waited for me to return from Jewel with another 100-piece bag of candy. Last year I think David said he gave out almost 450 pieces between 5:30pm and 7:00pm. In other words, Halloween on my street is huge.

However, my guess is that if I asked any of my Trick-or-Treaters about the history of this night or what it has to do with All Hallow's Eve and All Saints' Day no one would know. For most children, Halloween is a night to dress up and get candy, even from adults who would NEVER allow such luxuries.

With this in mind, I offer you a few fun facts and a ritual and tradition for you to add to your Halloween/All Saints' Day celebrations.

Fun Facts: The best way to describe the history of Halloween is to say that it evolved and in its evolution has a variety of pieces.

First of all, the candy...
The evolution of trick-or-treating is vague from all I can tell. A few sources say that it relates to the late Middle Ages when "souling" was practiced. Souling was a time when poor people would go door to door on Hallowmas, November 1st, and receive food in return for prayers for the dead. Other sources claim,

"Trick-or-Treating hasn't always been a part of Halloween celebrations. In fact, Halloween has only been celebrated in the US for a relatively short time. Celebrating All Hallow's Eve was a practice that came over to the US with the first large wave of immigrants who came from Ireland, England and Scotland. In some parts of these countries it was common for kids to go out "guising" on All Hallow's Eve to beg for food, money or other items. People who refused to give anything would sometimes find chalk drawings on their doors the next morning or find they were the victims of other pranks. When immigrants came to the US they brought their traditions with them and on all All Hallow's Eve each year in some immigrant communities it would be common to see small children, usually boys, with makeup or soot on their faces or wearing crude masks made from bags going around begging at different houses."*

Wow. What a change from those I meet on Halloween night today.

Second of all, the origin...
Some sources claim that Halloween began with the Celts in a festival known as Samhain. Samhain marked a time to take stock and celebrate the end of the harvest season in Gaelic culture. "The ancient Gaels believed that on October 31, the boundaries between the worlds of the living and the dead overlapped. They believed the deceased would come back to life and cause havoc such as sickness or damaged crops on those still living." ( Could this be how ghosts and goblins came to be part of our Halloween celebration? Could this be how we began to connect carving gourds and pumpkins on this night? At these gatherings bonfires were often built which attracted insects and naturally...bats.

Third, and most interesting, the name...
The word Halloween is actually a contraction of the word All Hallows Eve, the day/night before All Hallows Day. The ancient English word "Hallow" means "holy." For Christians the celebration of All Hallows Day, which began in the eighth century, was a day when believers remembered all the Saints who had come before them and taught them about God's love. This celebration takes place on November 1st so naturally the eve of this day is October 31st. Thus we have the day All-Hallows Eve, or as we know it today, Halloween. The one tricky part for us is that we no longer call November 1st All Hallows Day. We have renamed it All Saints' Day, but the intention of the feast day remains.

As I look at all three of these aspects of Halloween I am struck by how easily they draw us back to our relationship with God. First, the practice of trick-or-treating brings us into community and reminds us of our connection with and dependence on one another. Community matters. The second, marking the end of harvest time as the Celts did reminds us of our relationship with, and dependence upon, creation itself. We are not people living isolated from the earth. We need it and it needs us. Third, remembering those who have died reconnects us to all of God's reality. With angels, archangels, and all the company of heaven we are bound together as one.

Huh...I never realized how holy Halloween really is. Therefore, teach your children, grandchildren, and neighbors by inviting them to celebrate the holiday with the following ritual. As always adapt as you wish for the needs of your family.

Blessing for Halloween Eve of All Saints' Day**

Preparation: Gather pumpkin(s), carving tools, candles and matches if using Option One below. Gather candles and matches if using Option Two below.

Welcome (read by one member of the family): For everything there is a season and a time for every matter under heaven. Welcome to this time of remembering those, both living and dead, who have guided us on our spiritual journeys.

Prayer (read by oldest child, if able): Dear God, on the eve of All Saints' Day, may we be reminded of those who have touched our lives with your grace, truth and love, bringing light and hope to us. May this Halloween be for us a hallowed experience. Amen.

Bible Reading (read by a parent): Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfector of our faith. Hebrews 12:1-2a

Reflection: Ask each member of the family to name people who have loved them and taught them the most about Christ's love. Have each child say, Thank you, saint (name) for teaching me about Jesus.

Ritual Action:
Option One:
Choose a Christian symbol (a cross, star, lamb, angel, etc.) for the person each member has named as a saint. Clean out the pumpkin and carve the symbol on the shell. Put a candle into the pumpkin and light it.
Option Two: Light a candle in honor of each of the persons named as saints. Name them as their candle is lit.

Counting Blessings (done by all): As children and adults sort through any candy that has been collected during trick-or-treating, allow each piece to represent a blessing. Name those blessings. WOW! Look at how blessed we all are! Name one way you and/or you as a family can bless someone else. (i.e. being kind to someone; engaging in a service project collecting trash at the park; visiting someone; writing a note to a family member/friend).

Final Blessing (offered by a parent): May the holiness of this night enter into us, the vision of the saints guide us, and the light of God forever shine through us. Amen.

*For more Halloween history facts go to
**Adapted from For Everything a Season by the Nilsen Family