Most of our Christians celebrations, including Christmas and Easter, are a result of that dilemma. Halloween is no different.

Halloween began as a harvest festival from Celtic Ireland around the 5th century, BC. As is the case with most cultures who depend on a harvest, this feast was a time to mark the passing of summer into the long nights of winter.

It was believed at the time that during these times of transition, the boundaries between our world and the world of the dead was weakened, allowing the spirits of the recently dead to cross over and make contact with the living. This is where we get the idea of ghosts and goblins for Halloween. Large bonfires would be built and grain and animals (but never any humans) were sacrificed.

When Rome invaded Ireland they thought this was a pretty cool festival and pretty soon it spread to the rest of Europe. It was so popular that as Christianity spread, the church found it impossible to get people to quit celebrating this pagan festival.

The Church did what it always did with popular pagan holidays. It co-opted and baptized it and gave it a Christian meaning.

In the 8th century, the pope declared November 1, “All Saints Day”. It was as if the church said, “If you are so all fired determined to remember the dead and dwell on death, remember all the saints who have died and gone to heaven.”

Since in those days festivals would begin the evening before, October 31 was “All Hallowed (hallowed being the saints) Eve” or Halloween as it has come to be known as.


Zion, Waterloo

Many cultures have feasts and celebrations that help us deal with the reality of death.

And many of those feasts take place at harvest time. It is natural for people close to the land to think of death at harvest. One season of life and growth has ended.

Harvest means the death of most food-bearing plants. Death in this sense means completed – they have served their purpose. And yet they yield seeds for a new harvest.

Those who worship the Risen Christ and look forward to New Life after completing their purpose on this earth can certainly celebrate that.

Halloween is as good a time as any to proclaim Christ’s victory over evil.

The church has always struggled over how to be *in* but not *of* the world–when to accommodate when to withdraw?

Some Christians have chosen to withdraw and ban Halloween altogether.

But it seems to me, the church has always been more successful when it engages the world, and makes the connection between what is going on in the world and what God is doing in the world for us.




In many neighborhoods, it is no longer safe or practical for children to go door to door “trick or treating.”   And this practice was more than just a time for children to collect candy;  it was a time to visit neighbors and foster community.

Recognizing this loss, many congregations in our synod now offer “Trunk or Treat” events.


Trunk or Treat is a safe way for children to show off their costumes and collect candy and for congregation members to reach out to the community.

St. James, Mason City

Adults decorate cars in the parking lot and fill their trunks with candy.  Children go from car to car rather than door to door.
 It offers a way for neighbors to visit and get to know one another and engage the congregation with the neighborhood.

“It’s a great way to say to our neighborhood and community that our doors are open and you are welcome here,” notes Pastor Jennifer Bohls, St. James, Mason City.

“It has also been community building for the congregation with different people getting to know each other better and fun activities like our trunk decorating contest. People who don’t necessarily get a lot of trick or treaters at their home like it because they can get involved in the holiday as well.”



St. Petri, Story City


Congregation Trunk or Treat events show how engagement with, rather than withdrawal from the culture is a better witness to the love of Christ and work of God in the everyday lives of people.

Pastor Joelle Colville-Hanson

Director for Evangelical Mission, ELCA




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About The Rev. Dr. Joelle Colville-Hanson

The Rev. Dr. Joelle Colville-Hanson has been Director for Evangelical Mission, ELCA for the Northeastern Iowa Synod since late 2013. Part of her job description is to help leaders and congregations use social media and other digital means for outreach and mission. She writes and edits this blog as well as runs the social media accounts for the synod.




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