The Truth About Halloween-
WITCHES and ghosts, pumpkins and bonfires, trick or treat. The outward trappings of Halloween are easy to identify. But what lies behind this and similar celebrations? Halloween has also been called All Hallows’ Eve, the eve of All Saints’ Day. This supposedly Christian name, however, hides origins that are far from hallowed. In fact, scholars say that Halloween’s roots go back to a time long before Christianity—the era when the ancient Celts inhabited Britain and Ireland. Using a lunar calendar, the Celts divided the year into two seasons—the dark winter months and the light summer months. On the full moon nearest November 1, the Celts celebrated the festival of Samhain, meaning “Summer’s End.”
This festival, which marked the beginning of the Celtic new year, came at the end of summer, when the harvest had been gathered and the flocks and herds had been brought down from pasture into shelter. The Celts believed that as the days shortened, it was necessary to reinvigorate the sun through various rites and sacrifices. In symbolism of the dying old year, all fires were put out, and the new year was inaugurated with sacred bonfires from which all members of the community rekindled their hearths. These bonfires—an echo of which can be found today in Britain on Guy Fawkes Night and in Brazil in the June festivals—were also thought to frighten away evil spirits.
It was believed that on the festival of Samhain, the veil between the human and the supernatural worlds was parted and spirits, both good and evil, roamed the earth. The souls of the dead were thought to return to their homes, and families would put out food and drink for their ghostly visitors in hopes of appeasing them and warding off misfortune. Thus, today when children dressed as ghosts or witches go from house to house demanding a Halloween treat or threatening a mischievous trick, they unwittingly perpetuate the ancient rituals of Samhain. Jean Markale comments in his book Halloween, histoire et traditions (Halloween—History and Traditions): “In receiving something in their hands, they establish, on a symbolic level that they do not understand, a brotherly exchange between the visible and the invisible worlds. That is why the Halloween masquerades . . . are in fact sacred ceremonies.”
Since people believed that the barriers between the physical and supernatural realms were down, they thought that humans were able to cross over into the spirit world with ease. Samhain was therefore a particularly auspicious time to unlock the secrets of the future. Apples or hazelnuts, both viewed as products of sacred trees, were used to divine information concerning marriage, sickness, and death. For example, apples with identifying marks were placed in a tub of water. By seizing an apple using only the mouth, a young man or woman was supposed to be able to identify his or her future spouse. This divination practice survives today in the Halloween game of bobbing for apples.
Samhain was also characterized by drunken revelry and a casting aside of inhibitions. “Traditional values, if not flouted, were reversed,” states Markale. “What was forbidden was allowed, and what was allowed was forbidden.” Halloween still reflects this spirit today, which no doubt accounts to a great extent for its increasing popularity. Commenting on this, The Encyclopedia of Religion describes Halloween nowadays as “a time when adults can also cross cultural boundaries and shed their identities by indulging in an uninhibited evening of frivolity. Thus, the basic Celtic quality of the festival as an evening of annual escape from normal realities and expectations has remained into the twentieth century.”
The Catholic Encyclopedia defines All Saints’ Day as a feast to “honour all the saints, known and unknown.” At the end of the second century, so-called Christians began to honor those who had been martyred for their faith and, believing that they were already with Christ in heaven, prayed to them to intercede on their behalf. A regular commemoration began when on May 13, 609 or 610 C.E., Pope Boniface IV dedicated the Pantheon(the Roman temple of all the gods)to Mary and all the martyrs.
The change of date to November came under Pope Gregory III (731-741 C.E.), who dedicated a chapel in Rome to all the saints and ordered that they be honored on November 1. Exactly why he did this is unknown. But it may have been because such a holiday was already being celebrated on this date in England. The Encyclopedia of Religion points out: “Samhain remained a popular festival among the Celtic people throughout the christianization of Great Britain. The British church attempted to divert this interest in pagan customs by adding a Christian celebration to the calendar on the same date as Samhain. . . . The medieval British commemoration of All Saints’ Day may have prompted the universal celebration of this feast throughout the Christian church.”
Unable to uproot pagan beliefs from the hearts of its flock, the church simply hid them behind a “Christian” mask. Highlighting this fact, The Encyclopedia of Religion says: “The Christian festival, the Feast of All Saints, commemorates the known and unknown saints of the Christian religion just as Samhain had acknowledged and paid tribute to the Celtic deities.”
Just how concerned should you be about the dark past of Halloween and similar celebrations? After all, in most people’s minds, Halloween is little more than a time to dress up and have fun.
The concern to Christians should be the fact that Halloween and celebrations like it are steeped in paganism. The apostle Paul wrote: “I do not want you to be participants with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons.” (1 Corinthians 10:20-22, New International Version) He also asked: “What common interest can there be between goodness and evil? How can light and darkness share life together? How can there be harmony between Christ and the devil? What can a believer have in common with an unbeliever?” (2 Corinthians 6:14-16, Phillips) The Bible thus condemns the whole idea of putting a Christian mask on a pagan practice!
Also, the Bible warns against the practice of spiritism. (Deuteronomy 18:10-12) While it is true that the vast majority of those who celebrate Halloween would claim to spurn Satanic practices, we should, nevertheless, be aware that historically this holiday has close connections with the occult. Thus, it can serve as a door leading to spiritism, especially for impressionable youths. Pagan rites and traditions tainted by spiritism simply have no place in Christian worship; they are far from harmless.
Finally, there is the fact that Halloween, All Saints’ Day, and All Souls’ Day are all based on the beliefs that the dead suffer or that they can somehow bring harm to the living. However, the Bible clearly shows that such beliefs are not true, saying: “The living are conscious that they will die; but as for the dead, they are conscious of nothing at all.” (Ecclesiastes 9:5) For that reason, the Bible counsels: “All that your hand finds to do, do with your very power, for there is no work nor devising nor knowledge nor wisdom in Sheol [the common grave of mankind], the place to which you are going.” (Ecclesiastes 9:10) Since the dead are unconscious and thus incapable of harming others or suffering themselves, we have nothing to fear from them. At the same time, prayers to help them are of no use whatsoever. Does this mean that there is no hope for our dead loved ones? No. The Bible assures us that “there is going to be a resurrection of both the righteous and the unrighteous.”—Acts 24:15.
With knowledge comes the freedom to choose. We cannot be expected to make intelligent decisions if we do not have all the facts. After considering these facts, what will you decide?