Something occurred to me a while ago, which has rather the potential to change one’s understanding about Halloween, particularly when thinking about the historical context. I knew that there was an ancient understanding of the cycle of the day, certainly in Old Testament Judaism, that the day started at sunset. “Evening and morning, one day”, the creation narrative tells us.
I’m not quite sure when I started understanding this, but that perception of time continued into Christianity. An Orthodox example, the first Sunday service is Vespers on Saturday evening. This perspective may not be maintained in modern denominations, or if it is, it may not be immediately noticeable, as it doesn’t mean much practically outside of a liturgical framework. In fact, even in the liturgical concept, if you weren’t told and didn’t pick up on a few subtle cues, you might not immediately notice, either.
With that in mind, then, Halloween becomes not “the day before All Saints’ Day”, as you’ve probably heard all your life. It is the evening that marks the start of All Saints’ Day.
In a similar manner, then, properly speaking, the 24th of December is not “Christmas Eve”. The evening at the end of what is commonly perceived as the 24th of December is the evening that marks the beginning of Christmas Day. I found it confusing when in Germany I was told they celebrated Christmas on the 24th. I think perhaps they retained at least the practical implications of Christmas Day starting in the evening of the secular 24th, where in England we retained the understanding of Christmas Day being the 25th.
So what does this mean for Halloween? It means that whatever historic Christian traditions that were associated with Halloween, and the insights those traditions might provide to how our ancestors depicted evil spirits, or how they understood the deceased and how they relate to us, was part of, not separate to, their participation in the Feast of All Saints.
Digging through the layers of candy to discover those traditions and insights, now that’s the hard part.