We hear a lot about the pagan influence of our most popular holidays. Many Christian holidays are closely linked with changes in the seasons; so much so that some pagans even claim Christians stole their holidays. It’s easy to forget that they are not the only people group who keep track of time using the celestial bodies or find meaning in the changing seasons.
Astronomy Not Astrology
From the beginning, God gave his people Creation including “…lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days and years” (Gen. 1:14). If we forget that God gave us the stars, moon, and planets to help us mark time and seasons, we too can get caught up in the idea that paying attention to these things is strictly pagan and not something good that God made for our benefit.
In the Old Testament, we see that the old covenant feasts were also seasonal but strangely, we don’t hear much about their influence on our holidays. Have you ever noticed that Good Friday is right by Passover? Easter by the Feast of First Fruits? (Hint: it has nothing to do with the pagan goddess Ishtar.) Lent by Unleavened Bread? Although it’s not a covenant feast of the Lord, at the Feast of Lights (Hanukkah), don’t we celebrate the True Light coming into the world? (John 1:9) Aren’t most of our holidays already just celebrating the fulfillment of the prophetic symbolism of the biblical feasts – not by the letter of the Law but in spirit and truth?
As Christians, we have a better understanding that Jesus the Messiah has come, and the Scriptures – both the Old and New Testaments – apply this seasonal feast symbolism to Jesus and His covenant. Yet again and again, Christians are accused of supposedly hijacking paganism.
Saints or Spooks?
Let’s not ignore the elephant in the room, or rather the jack-o-lantern on your front porch. The eve of All Hallows Day, aka All Saint’s Day – Halloween – is the holiday with what seems to be the closest tie to paganism. What was once a day set aside to remember the martyrs and saints blended with pagan traditions of believing the veil between the afterlife and this one was at its thinnest on this day, so they tried connecting with the dead. While All Saint’s Day is not a biblical holiday, we can take a moment and review our biblical history and those old covenant feasts to see what’s happening here.
In the Bible, the closest feast to All Hallows Day, date-wise, is the Feast of Tabernacles. A tabernacle is a tent and during this feast, God’s people would set up tents to live in during the festival to remind them of when God was dwelling with them when they lived in tents in the wilderness for 40 years, awaiting entrance to the Promised Land. It is also a festival of the final harvest (Feast of the Ingathering, Exodus 34:22). Jesus is the perfect fulfillment of the Feast of Tabernacles. One of his names, Emmanuel, literally means “God with us” and we see New Testament authors emphasizing Christ’s fulfillment of this Feast Day:
We know that if our earthly house, this tent, were to be destroyed, we have an eternal building of God in the heavens, a house not made with hands. In this one we groan, earnestly desiring to be sheltered with our house which is from heaven. Thus being sheltered, we shall not be found unsheltered. For we who are in this tent groan, being burdened, not because we wish to be unclothed, but to be further clothed, so that what is mortal might be swallowed up by life. – 2 Corinthians 5:1-4 (MEV)
And in John, “The Word became flesh and tabernacled among us, and we saw His glory, the glory as the only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).
This is Halloween – No Paganism Required
Considering this background, doesn’t it make sense that the Church moved the remembrance of the martyrs to autumn and then expanded it to include all saints? As a Protestant, I don’t believe in the doctrine of purgatory or praying to saints, which unfortunately tends to permeate All Hallowtide, but nonetheless Halloween seems like an appropriate time to meditate on what it means to enter into eternity with Christ – the true joy of which should come from the fact that our God loves to dwell with His people.
Maybe the lesson here isn’t that Christians ripped off pagan holidays, but rather that all of Creation and all of Scripture are working together to point us to Jesus.
A True Harvest
In his prophetic vision, the Apostle John, writes about the harvest of God:
I looked. And there was a white cloud, and on the cloud sat One like a Son of Man, having on his head a golden crown, and in His hand a sharp sickle. Then another angel came out of the temple, crying with a loud voice to Him who sat on the cloud, “Thrust in Your sickle and reap. The time has come for You to reap, for the harvest of the earth is ripe.” So He who sat on the cloud thrust His sickle on the earth, and the earth was harvested. – Revelation 14:14-16
And if we are to stay true to the biblical imagery of reaping and harvest, shouldn’t Halloween be a time for God’s people to think about Jesus’ words, “The harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore, pray to the Lord of the harvest, that He will send out laborers into his harvest” (Matthew 9:37-38).
As a result, may we who know this true meaning of the holiday be empowered as workers for the harvest of the Lord this Halloween and every day from here to eternity.