Is there such a thing as innocent Halloween fun?
Where did all the traditions come from?
How should a Christian respond?
Many cultures around the world celebrate a ‘Day of the Dead’. One of the most influential to what would later become Halloween was the Celtic celebration of Samhain (pronounced Sah-win or Sow-in).
During the first century, the Roman Empire invaded and conquered most of the Celtic territory. With conquest came assimilation of customs and beliefs. It didn’t take long before Roman celebrations absorbed much of the Celtic traditions.
A Brief History of Halloween:
Halloween, also spelled Hallowe’en, stands for Hallows’ Eve or Evening. It is the night before All Hallows’ Day (also called All Saints’ Day), instituted in 609 A.D. by Pope Boniface IV.
This day to honor the saints (observed May 13), was an attempt to replace the earlier Celtic pagan festival with a Church-sanctioned holiday and thereby potentially add more converts to the church.
The Roman Catholic Church amalgamated pagan customs already in existence from the Celtic festival of Samhain with customs from their own ancient Roman equivalent called Feralia (observed February 21), and Pomona Day (observed November 1), into a “Christianized” All Hallows’ Day.
Subsequent popes moved the day of celebration from May 13 to November 1, adding martyrs of the church to be honored, along with the saints.
Then in 998 A.D., the Catholic Church instituted another day–All Souls’ Day, on November 2, to commemorate all the faithfully departed, those baptized Christians who are believed to be trapped in purgatory.
(Not only is the Catholic concept of purgatory unbiblical, but so is the common practice of praying to saints and saint worship.)
Altogether, All Hallows’ Eve or Hallowe’en (October 31), All Saints’ Day (November 1), and All Souls’ Day (November 2), combine into Hallowmas or Hallowtide mimicking the Celtic Vigil of Samhain.
The feast of Halloween and the devotion to the dead on All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day are mixtures of old Celtic, Druid, and other pagan customs intertwined with Christian practice.
Samhain literally translates to “summer’s end”.
The ancient Celts and Druids, who lived in what is now Ireland, Great Britain, and Northern France, worshipped the sun and moon, plants and animals, conception and death, cycles and times of life, like most every other culture in existence.
For the Celts, there were two seasons: summer and winter. October 31 was their last day of summer. The new year and the start of winter began the next day, November 1st.
Their lord, Samhain, reigned over the long winter as the influence of their sun-god, Beltaine, and the summer season waned.
The Celts believed that something mystical happened between the closing of the curtain of summer and the drawing back of it again for winter.
It was believed the dead could pierce through this thin veil of time and walk among the living this one night on October 31.
According to the Celts, these awakened spirits needed to be placated to ensure the people and their livestock made it through the long winter. How would they prevent these evil spirits from seeking vengeance and reeking havoc upon them all?
Offerings of food and drink were left outside and places were set at the table. Soul cakes were baked. Animal and crop sacrifices were made.
Villagers donned gruesome masks and dressed in costumes in hopes the evil spirits would mistake them for one of their own and leave them be. Bonfires and candles were lit to frighten the spirits away.
This was a time of fear.
Do you know the origin of these Halloween customs?
- Going door to door in costume: this was called souling in England, mumming in Germany, and guising in Scotland and Ireland. In medieval Europe, villagers would go door to door begging for food or coin in return for a prayer for the dead. They wore ghoulish costumes and hideous masks in hopes that impersonating the spirits would protect them from attack or possession. Later, the Catholic clergy adopted the local pagan customs and had their adherents going house to house (or parish to parish) wearing costumes and asking for small gifts or soul cakes in exchange for prayer for the souls of the givers.
- “Trick or Treat”: People parading in ghoulish costumes to imitate malevolent spirits eventually lead to playing pranks and blaming them on evil spirits. Thus came the modern custom of doing damage to homeowners’ property if a ‘treat’ was not given.
- Halloween Candy: As Halloween evolved, bread, fruit, cookies, nuts, small toys, and coins were given to those who came begging. It was not until after the mid-1950’s that the more portable and inexpensive candy was handed out.
- Bonfires: Bonfires were used for divination and to frighten away evil spirits. Flames, smoke, and ash were thought to have protective and cleansing powers. The revelers would mark their faces with the ash as protection, while they burned animal and crop sacrifices to the gods.
- Costume Parties: Many Christians in mainland Europe—especially France—believed that once a year, on Halloween, the dead of the churchyard rose for one wild, hideous display. This ‘Danse Macabre’, as it was called, was later enacted in villages with people dressing up as corpses and became a precursor to the modern Halloween costume party.
- Black Cats: Ancient Celts believed that Samhain, the pagan lord of the dead, assembled the souls of the dead and decided what form they would take for the next year. The souls would either pass on to human form or live within an animal form. The most evil of souls would take the form of cats.
- Candies Apples and ‘Bobbing’ for Apples: Fruits and nuts were important in the Roman harvest feast of Pomona, the goddess of fruit, trees, and fertility. In ancient Rome, where apples were considered sacred, worshippers ‘bobbed’ for apples in a divination game to discover one’s future mate.
- Jack o’ lanterns: originally these were hollowed out turnips with a candle lit inside representing a soul of the dead. People would carry these or place them outside, to ward off evil spirits and to prevent them from haunting the living. Later, the Catholic Church believed the light represented the trapped soul in purgatory. In North America, when Europeans began emigrating here, they brought their pagan customs with them. Pumpkins were more plentiful than turnips and easier to carve.
Halloween traditions such as dressing up as ghouls, witches, etc., donning grotesque masks, going door to door or ‘trick or treating’, costume parties, black cats, bonfires, ‘tricks’ and mischievous pranks, Halloween candy, carved pumpkins or jack o’ lanterns, skeletons, skulls, and an obsession with death and the dead, all point back to the Vigil of Samhain, the false lord of the dead, pagan Roman holidays, and the Catholic Church’s Hallowmas.
For God hath not given us a spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind. 2 Timothy 1:7
Halloween is a holiday that lauds fear, darkness, death, and evil.
But we are admonished in Philippians 4:8 to seek “whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report . . .”
Where does evil fit in?
Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good. Romans 12:21
Princess or superhero costumes are not ugly or evil, some will say.
They are not.
But why are we trying to find a cute and acceptable way to follow the world?
Why are we doing things, that are not evil in and of themselves, on the same day that celebrates death, darkness, and evil?
Why are we chasing after the world’s ungodly throwbacks from times of old?
There shall not be found among you any one that…uses divination, or an observer of times, or an enchanter, or a witch, or a charmer, or a consultant with familiar spirits, or a wizard, or a necromancer.
For these nations, which thou shalt possess, hearkened unto observers of times, and unto diviners: but as for thee, the Lord thy God hath not suffered thee so to do.
Deuteronomy 18:10–11, 14
For every tree is known by his own fruit. For of thorns men do not gather figs, nor of a bramble bush gather they grapes. Luke 6:44.
If we play around with thorns, we are bound to get pricked. And a bramble will scratch you, no doubt.
We cannot grasp figs of thorns, dear friends.
There is no good that can be gathered from evil.
And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them. Ephesians 5:1
Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you,
And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.
2 Corinthians 6:17–18
Abiding in the Vine,
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The post “Figs of Thorns: Christians and Halloween” was first published on Desert Rain.