Soul Food: Halloween and the State of the Soul

Halloween and the State of the Soul

TomBy Tom Unfried

Perhaps it is because the days grow darker, or because the life of spring turns to the death knell of autumn – no one quite knows – Halloween is the magical time of year when people of all faiths and cultures the world over consider the state of the soul. From the Celtic Samhain to the Mexican Dia de los Muertos, from the secular Halloween to the protestant Reformation day, October 31st is a time when most people are open to considering the soul.

One tradition that has long been connected to Halloween is called “souling.” According to Wikipedia the English tradition of souling involves handing out cakes, called souls, to soulers. Mainly consisting of children and the poor, soulers go from door to door during the days of Halloween, All Saints Day, and All Soul’s Day singing and saying prayers for the dead.

While this Christian tradition derived from the concept of praying souls out of purgatory, the practice might have earlier roots as a gift to appease the spirits of the dead. These soul cakes varied in form from cookies to fruit-filled tarts. They are even such a part of English culture that various recording artists have appropriated traditional folk songs about them and placed their own take on them.

In America the tradition of souling morphed into what has become known as trick-or-treating. Removed from the context of prayer, trick-or-treating seems like a banal celebration of things antithetical to the Christian faith. Many conservative churches host “harvest festivals” that encourage children to dress up in costumes that do not celebrate death.

But I believe that Christians can take back the holiday. If viewed as an opportunity to share the gift of the gospel with the neighbors, perhaps creating treat bags that consist of a toy, a piece of candy, and a Gospel of John or some other tract could stand in for the soul cakes. Just think, each bag could represent the opportunity to pray for whoever receives the bag and its contents. If the neighbors are truly open to considering the state of their soul during this holiday, a revised concept of souling could indeed be the means of reaching them with the light of Christ.

soul cakeFor those who might be interested in handing actual soul cakes, the recipe I liked best ironically comes from’s page on paganism/wicca:

  • 1 refrigerated roll-out pie crust
  • 2 Tbs. melted butter
  • 1 C mixed dried fruit
  • 2 Tbs honey

Roll out the pie crust and cut it into circles. Use the circles to line a tin of muffin cups. Mix the butter, fruit and honey together. Scoop the fruit mixture into the pastry shells, and then bake for 15 minutes at 375 degrees. Allow to cool for about ten minutes before eating.

And for those who like the idea of handing out gospels and tracts, I recommend The Pocket Testament League, which can be found at

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