I’ll admit it. I’m scared of the dark…still. I’m not alone either, and with good reason. Wild beasts and creepy crawly things lurk around in the dark. It’s confusing. Things look different and it’s easy to stumble and fall. And perhaps most frightening, people with evil intentions are skulking out there!
Way back in pre-medieval days people had similar fears. It led to some strange myths and behaviors, like carving jack-o’-lanterns.
Their origin comes from an Irish myth about Stingy Jack, who tricked the Devil for his own monetary gain. When Jack died, God didn’t allow him into heaven, and the Devil didn’t let him into hell, so Jack was sentenced to roam the earth for eternity. In Ireland, people started to carve demonic faces out of turnips to frighten away Jack’s wandering soul. When Irish immigrants moved to the U.S., they began carving jack-o’-lanterns from pumpkins, as these were native to the region.
Halloween is based on the Celtic festival Samhain, a celebration in ancient Britain and Ireland that marked the beginning of the new year on November 1. It was believed that during Samhain the souls of those who had died that year traveled to the otherworld and that other souls would return to visit their homes.
In the 8th century CE, the Roman Catholic Church moved All Saints’ Day, a day celebrating the church’s saints, to November 1. This meant that All Hallows’ Eve (or Halloween) fell on October 31. Traditions from Samhain remained, such as wearing disguises to hide yourself from the souls wandering around your home. The folklore about Stingy Jack was quickly incorporated into Halloween, and we’ve been carving pumpkins—or turnips—ever since.
(Grannan, Cydney. "Why Do We Carve Pumpkins at Halloween?". Encyclopedia Britannica, 25 Oct. 2017, https://www.britannica.com/story/why-do-we-carve-pumpkins-at-halloween.)
That may all seem a bit silly or superstitious, but they got one thing right: light chases away the darkness. And while this is good for physical safety and security, it is imperative for spiritual health and safety! Jesus is our Light. He said as much himself in John 8:12. In fact, the entire Gospel message can be summed up with verses about light.
We lived in an Eden of light and protection: “This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.” 1 John 1:5. But we chose the darkness of sin and death: “He is driven from light into the realm of darkness and is banished from the world.” Job 18:18
But God did not abandon us. He gave us a guide back to Him: “Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.” Psalm 119:105. And those who followed found the light of His love: “Even in darkness light dawns for the upright, for those who are gracious and compassionate and righteous.” Psalm 112:4
But generation after generation chose darkness, so the Lord promised a light so big it would light the whole world: “the people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.” Matthew 4:16 (quoting Isaiah 9:2) This Light is so big and so victorious that it cannot be extinguished: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” John 1:5 This Light is Christ who reconciles us to God: “For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.” 2 Corinthians 4:6
And still, there are those who refuse the warmth of this light: “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.” John 3:19.
Now it’s up to us to be a light for others as God’s Word and Jesus Christ are a light unto us. “I am sending you to them to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’ Acts 26:17-18.
We are called to holiness: “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light.” Ephesians 5:8. And we are to pray that God’s will is done and leave the judgement to Him: “Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart. At that time each will receive their praise from God.” 1 Corinthians 4:5.
And one fine, glorious day we will dwell with the Lord forever: “The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it.” Revelation 21:23-24.
So be a Jack-O-Lantern this Halloween, shining the love and light of your saintliness on everyone you meet. Perhaps the warmth of your glow will make them want to come in out of the dark for good.
With love and light,