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November 2015



 No, this is not a rant about the misuse of apostrophes. Rather it is a lament that the Christian Festival of Hallowe'en (with apostrophe) has become the secularised event called Halloween (usually without the apostrophe)

It is clear that most people today do not know where this word comes from or what it originally meant. Today in popular culture HALLOWEEN  is all about ghosts and scary things and pumpkins and fireworks and dressing up and “trick or treat” and in my youth it included sixpence in apple pie. No mention of God. This is a pity but it is a symptom of today’s drift way from Christianity and the Church.

So let’s see how this happened and what the word really means.

In the Bible we have a collection of letters written by St Paul. He addresses several of them in the same style as he does his the letter to the Ephesians which I shall take as an example. Thus the AV gives us, “Paul. an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, to the saints who are at Ephesus”

Who are “the saints at Ephesus” or the saints at any of the other churches? Modern translations give us a clue. The NIV that I was given in 1986 still includes “the saints” but a later edition has, “the holy people of God”. The NLT also uses this term. The NRSV still uses “saints”.

 The Greek word is hagios and is variously translated as holy, saints, God’s people. God’s holy people, sacred, sanctuary, believers, consecrated, devoted. Basically it means those who have answered Jesus’ call to love, follow and serve him, that is, Christians. So when St Paul uses the term he is talking to or about members of the Church, which is the mystical body of Christ. So, in New Testament terms, you and I and all other members of the Church are Biblical “saints”.

 Also read Revelation to see that there is a great multitude of the saved who are in heaven. So we have the “church militant”, all the saints who are still fighting the good fight, here on Earth, and “the church triumphant” who have passed on to be with the Lord. And these are all the saints.

 In the Lord’s prayer the word "hallowed" comes from the Greet word, Hagizio, which has essentially the same meaning as hagios. It can be translated “set apart”. We set apart the name of God, just as the saints are set apart to serve Jesus. We sanctify church buildings to set them apart for holy purposes.

 When a person dies at their funeral service we remember them and we give thanks for their life. I still remember my parents and give thanks for their lives.

 So in the early years of the church it was considered a good thing to remember ALL the saints and to give thanks for the example they give us while they are Saints Militant or the example that they gave us when they are Saints Triumphant. And we do that especially on All Saints Day which is November 1st.

 It was also the custom of the church to start to celebrate festivals at sunset the night before, the eve of the festival day. And so 31st October is All Saints’ eve, which can be called All Hallows Even or Hallowe’en. Note the importance of the apostrophe to indicate that the “v” has been omitted.

Hallowe’en is thus a part of the celebration of All Saints’ Day and is an occasion to remember all the saints, those special to us and all the rest. It is Christian and is well supported by the Bible.

 In Sweden, All Saints’ Day is a holiday and a common, nice practice is for families to go together to visit the graves of parents or grand parents or other close relatives.. They remember and give thanks.

 Another good idea the early church had, and I support this, is to remember the founding apostles of the church after Pentecost. Great leaders from whose memory we can get encouragement and knowledge. They designated particular days throughout the year for each of them. The Church of Ireland includes the twelve apostles (with Matthias instead of Judas: see Acts 1). Also included are Paul, Barnabas, Stephen, Mary the mother of Jesus and Mary Magdalene. The C of I also includes the great inspirational Irish saints Patrick who brought Christianity to Ireland, Columba a leader who committed a great sin resulting in the death of hundreds of people and who, after repentance, became a great Irish missionary, and Brigit a strong female leader who established a large Christian community in Kildare. She would have been as important as a Bishop.

So, if we say that we hate Halloween, we need to make it clear that we are talking about the modern, secular event and not the Christian festival. Hallowe’en is not the only hijacked Christian festival as Christmas has long been secularised. Did you know, for example, the three days after Christmas are saints’ days, especially chosen to draw attention to three important aspects of Jesus’ ministry? 26th is St Stephen’s day. Stephen was the first Christian martyr, and Jesus was to be crucified, 27th is St John’s Day whose Gospel and Letters are great advocates of Love and 28th is Holy Innocents’ Day when we remember the slaughter of the babies of Bethlehem. (We call 26th Boxing Day but in the South it is still called St Stephen’s Day.)

Of course, there were pagan festivals about the end of October shortly after the autumnal equinox, and about the end of December shortly after the winter solstice,  so perhaps paganism is simply reclaiming its festivals which the church had taken and Christianised as Hallowe'en and Christmas!

Ken (29 October 2015)


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