Most people don’t think of halloween as a Christian holiday, but it is (mostly). I remember when I was a kid there seemed to be a lot more disagreement about whether or not people should celebrate Halloween than I see today. Most kids got to trick-or-treat, but there were always a few kids who didn’t because their mom said it was a wiccan holiday dedicated to satan worship. I would point out that thought actually contradicts itself, wiccans don’t believe in satan. Satan is a Christian concept. There were also a large number of churches who actively preached against having anything to do with Halloween. (Bonus points if you remember ‘Halloween service.’ The irony.) Things aren’t as divisive as they used to be, but every once in a while I still come across a random person rehashing old arguments. It’s a shame people don’t know more about their own belief system. C’est la vie. Anyway, anyone who knows me knows that I have a fondness for church history, and love to geek out on bible studies. So let’s do that.
As Christianity spread into Ireland, Irish people were hesitant to adopt Christian beliefs and customs. Within Celtic groups was the end of harvest celebration known as ‘Samhain.’ This festival takes place on November 1, with some celebrations beginning October 31. Most people agree that Samhain and the Christian ‘Allhallowtide’ are where we get the modern ‘Halloween,’ though some argue that the two aren’t connected. As with much of history, it’s hard to know for sure. We’ll get on ‘Allhallowtide’ later.
So what is ‘Halloween?’ Let’s break down the name first. ‘Halloween’ comes from ‘All Hallows Eve’, it’s also called ‘Hallowmas Eve’, or ‘All Saints Eve.’ The holiday we celebrate as ‘Halloween’ was originally a time to celebrate the coming of ‘All Saints Day.’ I haven’t read into exactly why ‘All Saints Day’ isn’t celebrated more in the United States, I imagine it’s because the U.S. has less Catholic influence than Europe and Central America. (We’ll get into that more later too.)
So what about the costumes and stuff? Well, traditionally, on All Hallows Eve children and the poor would walk from house to house and offer prayers for the deceased in exchange for ‘soul cakes.’ This is thought to be where our modern trick-or-treating comes from. As for costumes, parishioners of churches would at times dress as martyred saints during ‘Allhallowtide.’ Turnips were carved to use as lanterns, also representing the souls of the dead, which eventually grew into the jack-o-lanterns we know of today.
Originally ‘Halloween’ was a Catholic holiday, and the people being prayed for were thought to be in purgatory. This proved to be an issue with the Protestants who didn’t believe in purgatory. There’s a long debate about purgatory/the intermediate state/Abraham’s bosom that I’m not going to get into in this post. But, this could be considered one of the things that caused Halloween to be redefined. As Catholicism and Protestantism both spread throughout the U.S., so did opposing views of Halloween. A lot of Protestants didn’t celebrate it because it was seen as a Catholic holiday. It wasn’t until the Irish/Scot immigration of the 1800’s that Halloween was recognized as an actual holiday, because to the Celts, it was ingrained in their culture.
Over time Halloween became more and more secular and commercialized. Halloween today has very little, to nothing, to do with its Christian roots. I see what has happened to Halloween as what is happening to Christmas. While Christmas used to be a time to celebrate the birth of Christ, it’s now looked at as a secular time of year focused on competitive gift-giving. In the same vain, ‘Allhallowtide’ was once a time to remember and pray for the departed, whereas today, no one really cares.
‘Allhallowtide’ encompasses three seperate, and consecutive days:
Oct. 31- Halloween; we’ve covered
Nov. 1- All Saints Day; A day to remember the Saints
Nov. 2- All Souls Day; A day to remember the deceased
Halloween is a far cry from what it once was. People outside of Catholic(ish) circles don’t really take time to remember all those who were martyred in the name of Christ. Outside of Central America, or its descendants, I don’t know of anyone who observes All Souls Day(The Day of the Dead/Dia de Los Muertos). *Sigh*
Anyway, that’s a brief rundown of Halloween. It’s not a satanic-wiccan-evil devil worshiping holiday. It’s actually Christian in nature. If you don’t want to partake in any Halloween festivities, that’s totally understandable, just know why you don’t want to. And, if you’re going to argue that it has been overrun by paganism, I have some bad news for you. I can think of more pagan traditions off the top of my head that have to do with Christmas than I can with Halloween. That will be a post for another day.
In the meantime, happy All Hallows Eve. Enjoy your soul cakes.
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