This article first appeared in the November 2013 issue of the Anglican Journal.
Historically, the Western church has observed this as a night of vigil, prayer and fasting before All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day. Some scholars think All Hallows’ Eve absorbed elements from the ancient Celtic new year, Samhain (“summer’s end”), when the veil between the material and immaterial worlds thinned and spirits walked abroad—notions that later evolved into the folk festival of Hallowe’en. During the Christianization of Britain, missionaries would commonly incorporate pagan observances into the Christian calendar to ease the process of conversion. Lutherans celebrate Oct. 31, the date Luther posted his Wittenberg theses, as the birth of the Reformation.