Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Halloween—
But Were Afraid To Ask.
Times were simpler when I was a girl, back in the 1950s. The Halloween party for our church youth group was the most anticipated event on our autumn calendar. We got together in the church basement, stuffed ourselves with candy and cupcakes, bobbed for apples, played games and took the simplicity of our lives completely for granted. We went Trick or Treating door to door in our neighborhood, wearing homemade costumes, unaccompanied by an adult.. We were in good hands as we greeted our neighbors, eager little beggars, petitioning for more sugary loot. “Halloween” was all very safe, secure and innocent.
Today, Halloween is, first and foremost, a huge retail opportunity second only to Christmas in commercialism,and is, in every way, so much more complicated! Cities like New York and San Francisco celebrate with major parades where more adults than children throng the streets in full costume. Costuming has become an extravaganza of licensed characters such as Spider Man, Yoda and Sponge Bob. Beer is more widely accepted as a Halloween treat than candy corn. As far as Halloween parties for church youth groups go, they’ve gone the way of the dodo. Many Christians equate the day with witchcraft (the evil kind) and wickedness. It’s the last thing they would consider proper entertainment for their children. Trick or treating offers some sick-o the opportunity to slip a drug laced apple or razor blade stuffed candy bar into a child’s hands! “Halloween” in this century is downright dangerous!
So what’s the real story?
Is Halloween a day of innocent merriment or a celebration of sinister forces? History proves it is, in fact, a little of each.
Born from pagan traditions more than 2,000 years ago, Halloween grew out of a Celtic celebration making the onset of winter’s gloom. Called Samhain (pronounced sow-in or sow-een), it combined the Celts’ harvest and New Year festivals, held in late October and early November by people in what is now Ireland, Great Britain and throughout Eastern Europe. It was tied to the seasonal cycles of life and death, and celebrated as the last crops were harvested and livestock was brought in for winter slaughter.
The Celts saw Samhain as a fearful time, when the barrier between the worlds of the living and the dead broke and spirits walked the Earth. Going door-to-door, children collected wood for a sacred bonfire that provided light against the growing darkness. During this fire festival, the Celts wore masks, often made of animal heads and skins, hoping to frighten off spirits. As the celebration ended, families carried home embers, sometimes in a gourd or turnip, from the communal fire to relight their hearth fires.
See any similarities here? It looks as if costumes, trick-or-treating and jack-o’-lanterns all got their start centuries ago around an Irish bonfire.
Early Christianity took a dim view of these “heathen rites. Attempting to replace the Celtic festival of the dead with a church-approved holiday the seventh century Pope Boniface IV designated November 1 All Saints’ Day to honor saints and martyrs. Then in 1000 A.D. the church made November 2 All Souls’ Day, A Day to remember the departed and to pray for their souls. Even still, people continued to celebrate the pagan holy days like Samhain, costumed as angels and devils, with bonfires and parades. Together the three celebrations (All Saints’ Eve, All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day) were called Hallowmass, and the night before came to be called All-hallows Evening, eventually shortened to “Halloween”.
Merged with Christianity, these Celtic rituals held sway in Europe for centuries. And when million of Irish and Europeans emigrated to America, they brought along the traditions.
Halloween is deeply rooted in myth—ancient stories explaining the season and the mysteries of life and death. Myths have always been the way people make sense of their world. That’s why even Halloween’s ancient stories live on so vividly in modern movies, language and holidays.
Why Bats n’ Cats
n’ Witches Brooms say it’s Halloween!
Jack-O Lantern • The age old practice of carrying home embers in a hollowed-out turnip burns strong. In an Irish folk tale, a man named Stingy Jack once escaped the devil with a turnip lantern. When the Irish came to America. Jack’s turnip was exchanged for the more easily carved pumpkin, and Stingy Jack’s name lives on.
Black Cat • Thought to be reincarnated beings since ancient times, black cats were considered “familiars” witches in disguise, in the Middle Ages, which led to a cruel practice of burning them.
Witch • Most ancient peoples, including the Egyptians, Greeks and Romans, had myths and folklore about those capable of magic. As Christianity spread, witchcraft got a bad name and was linked to devil worship.
Witch Broom • An old corn dance, a fertility rite usually done during the full moon, involved jumping over a stick or broom. It was an easy leap to connect this dance to witches riding broomsticks across the full moon. Other tales say witches hid wands by disguising them as brooms.
Witch Hat • Some experts say the pointy hat was just the style worn by peasant women – those often accused of witchcraft – in 16th century Europe. For million today the Wicked Witch of the West’s headgear has been confirmed as scary witch wear.
But I’m a Christian, so what should I do with all of this?
I asked that question over on facebook earlier this month and the replies were, to say the least, diverse, covering the spectrum from complete and total denial to “Trunk or Treat”. Extreme opposites on both perspectives.
“It’s all evil! Hide in your house with the lights off.”
“It’s an opportunity to share the Gospel. Invite them in. Pass out treats and Tracts.”
Personally…we live IN the world, but we are not OF the world. For that reason, it seems appropriate to guard my actions and my words in such a way as to avoid promoting evil, while, at the same time, endeavor to avoid casting a shadow of intolerance and superiority on my position in Christ. After all, who wants to listen to some sanctimonious, I’m way better than you are, believer expound on how a jack-o-lantern is going to send you to hell?
Like so many other issues today, Halloween can become a line of demarcation between Christians and non-believers.—even between members of the Body of Christ, if the truth be told. And that, my friends, is exactly where and how the enemy uses the whole deal – to divide and conquer.
If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but is coming to an end. Mark 3:24-26 (RSV)
Finally, my personal point of view…as a follower of Christ…corresponds with Paul’s as he explained to the church in Corinth:
When with the heathen I agree with them as much as I can, except of course that I must always do what is right as a Christian. And so, by agreeing, I can win their confidence and help them too.
When I am with those whose consciences bother them easily, I don’t act as though I know it all and don’t say they are foolish; the result is that they are willing to let me help them. Yes, whatever a person is like, I try to find common ground with him so that he will let me tell him about Christ and let Christ save him. I do this to get the Gospel to them and also for the blessing I myself receive when I see them come to Christ. 1 Corinthians 9:21-23 (TLB)
Including excerpts from a USA News article by Kenneth C. Davis
Follower of Christ, writer & artist.