Llanilltud Fawr – Llantwit Major

All Saints / Halloween Celebrations in Wales – a growing offer

The New Library is at the heart of a confident and joyous approach to celebrating Halloween in Welsh culture.

Children and families take part in early evening fun in which the ancient Welsh Celtic Saints come together with Halloween. It is a strong affirmation of the spiritual roots of the Christian tradition.


The Christian festivals of All Hallowes (Halloween) and All Saints were historically apart, taking place at different times of the year. But over a thousand years ago the two festivals were brought together at the end of October/beginning of November.

This time of year marks the great Celtic festival passing from Autumn into Winter. In ancient times it was also a season when decisions had to be made about which cattle could be kept over winter and which slaughtered for food. It was a time of bonfires for rendering the carcasses. And celebration. A spiritual festival.

The fashion for children celebrating a contemporary consumer Halloween has grown in recent decades. Adults are now joining the expanding expression. The date is becoming something of a national fancy dress festival. Enormous fun has emerged widely in our culture with large numbers of children and adults presently celebrating a mild horror version of Halloween. This has been taken up by the media and the contemporary consumer Halloween is growing.

Work underway in South Wales by the New Library seeks provide some joyous, public spiritual underpinnings for this festival time of year. The wonderful heritage of the past holds much, much more for Welsh culture than the current round of cheap sweets, cheap plastic, and dressing up as zombies and ghouls.

By making a public, joyous celebration for communities on All Saints and Halloween the New Library’s festival development work frames the deep offer of these two great festivals and their relevance today.

Families with children are invited to assemble just before dusk carrying homemade vegetable lanterns. They bring potatoes, turnips or any sort of homemade lantern.   These home made preparations and the expectation of participation are part of the fun.  Once assembled families set off on a walk around the village or edge of town in the twilight. They encounter characters as they travel.

On the Halloween festival last year children in a village just outside Bridgend came across Sir Gawain in their village playground. Legend tells how Sir Gawain from King Arthur’s Round Table set out on All Saint’s Day to meet the ghostly Green Knight.

On arriving at the church the families are greeted by a bonfire and then the children take a thick ribbon , over 200 metres long, bearing the name of hundreds of Welsh and Celtic Saints. The children then walk around the church  binding the building with the names of the Welsh & Celtic Saints, calling out the Saint’s names.

When the building is bound the children enter the church by ducking under the ribbon to receive a gift. The children are told that the source of spirit is goodness. They are told that this church building is a sure symbol that they will always have constant access to goodness in their lives, and that they should always be confident that goodness and love is the foundation of life. Go off now, they are told, and enjoy dressing up as monsters and ghosts, and be be certain that the source of spirit is good.

The event is not simply for “church” families.  It is not consolation or an “alternative” to the contemporary consumer Halloween of popular culture. It is an event for all of the families of the village and town. It places the fancy dress celebrations of the contemporary consumer Halloween in a firm spiritual setting. This festival offers warmth and hospitality to all. It has already proved popular, with Welsh Saint ribbon bindings and bonfires undertaken and/or planned in St Brides Major, Penarth, Llantwit Major, Wick, St Athan and Brecon.

Hallowe’en has evolved into a strange cultural phenomenon – at its worst, a heavily commercialized celebration of horror and evil. In stark contrast, Richard Parry’s Hallowe’en Church Binding provides a wonderful, imaginative and authentically Christian alternative, suitable for all ages. Hallowe’en is reclaimed as an exciting festival for the renewal of faith in Jesus Christ, rejoicing in the power of holiness and faithfulness as sources of Light in the midst of darkness. I wholeheartedly commend this brand-new tradition in the life of the Church.

Tim Llewellyn Jones, Director of Ministry and Discipleship, Diocese of Llandaff

In truth, many of Britain’s churches are perplexed and uncomfortable with contemporary consumer Halloween. This discomfort might be a good opportunity for many different expressions of church to come together to explore their concerns, sometimes articulated at this time of year, about the nature of evil. The New Library would like to contribute to and help frame such discussions. The New Library is grounded in Kingdom of Heaven church and cultural traditions. Such open, public discussions by church about anxiety and evil could be very helpful to the wider church and society. But it is suggested that perhaps Halloween is not the best place to begin this dialogue. There is a danger that such important questions could be unhealthily at the simple fancy dress and fun of millions of people who simply enjoy the contemporary consume festival in its present mainstream form.  The work of the New Library makes a distinction between the  important theological conversation about the nature of evil and the widespread desire of children and adults to dress up and celebrate. Some churches ignore the popular excitement and act on an instinct to retreat inside at Halloween, often raising concerns about spiritual darkness. Yet the New Library’s joyous and open All Saints/Halloween festival work in Wales seeks to embrace the wide popular desire to celebrate and helps to frame this popular culture with a proper Christian spiritual base.

Some church communities seek to offer alternatives to Halloween by holding Light Parties and I also admire people who have borne witness to their deep Christian faith by dressing up as angels on Halloween and circulating local streets to greet and talk with popular fancy dress horror revellers. Both these responses are strong expressions of church confidence. Yet there is, perhaps, a qualitative difference between these confident Light Party and street angel approaches and the All Saints/Halloween festival work underway in South Wales. The Light Parties and the expression of angels, as brilliant witness, may unwittingly give out the message “don’t do that – do this!”. In contrast, the ongoing All Saints/Halloween invitations and community festival work affirms the messiness of our shared popular culture that already exists, embraces it, and offers the contemporary consumer Halloween an understanding of itself rooted in goodness, community, acceptance, renewal and light in darkness from a church bound into the witness of the Welsh and Celtic Saints.