By Kindred Winecoff
My family are evangelical fundamentalist Protestant Reformed Christians. Only two of those descriptors applies to me now (guess which!), but Halloween remains a weird time of year for me. Because of religiously-motivated conscientious objections on my parents’ part I never had the typical American experience — dress up as something scary — when I was young, and so I never really bothered with the arrested development ritual — dress up as something funny and/or sexy — since I’ve been old. So Oct. 31 is not a big deal for me, except insofar as it inconveniences me, and I’m a bit suspicious of anyone over the age of 20 or so who still geeks out on it.
As far as I can recall, I was only permitted by my parents to trick-or-treat once. I was dressed as the Old Testament David. My neighborhood cohort, ghouls and ghosts and glow-in-the-dark skeletons, were not intimidated by my (fake) slingshot. I did not encounter any Goliaths. As I remember it I ran home in tears before collecting any candy.
My parents eventually realized that This Would Not Do. You don’t take a slingshot to gunfight. But they also could not let me celebrate the Devil’s holiday in style. Solution: a church-sponsored “All Saints’ Day” party, on November 1, wherein all the kids dressed up as Moses or Joshua or something (not too many good dress-up characters from the New Testament), got candy, and everyone had a wholesome time. It was a win-win. The church parties not only had candy but also games. Most of my friends were there, whereas trick-or-treating is pretty anonymous. There wasn’t anything scary, except for the spiritual warfare stuff that I didn’t really understand. Some of the less-observant kids got to celebrate two candy-receiving holidays in a row! And the parents seemed to enjoy themselves.
But! There was a subversive undertone that I did not appreciate as a child, and in fact did not know until just this week. All Saints’ Day was a Papist gyp. It originated in the 7th century, when Boniface IV consecrated the Roman Pantheon to the (alleged) Blessed Virgin and the Christian martyrs. My evangelical fundamentalist Protestant Reformed parents were bribing me with candy to celebrate the usurpation by a heretical egomaniac of a pagan monument! Strange brew.
Later, apparently, Byzantium tried to usurp the previous usurpation. This involved a shift from “all martyrs” to “all saints”. Wikipedia has the simple story. It was only a matter of time before there was slippage from the Orthodox to the Episcopalians, so the Protestant usurpation was not original to my family’s (Presbyterian) church. Around the turn of the 20th century the Anglican bishop William Walshow How wrote the lyric of one of my favorite Christian hymns to commemorate the day, which was shortly later set to a gorgeous martial tune. One of the better of the style, in a very strong field: