Growing up, I loved dressing up as a different character every year. I usually opted for something that called for lots of fabric, a big hoop skirt, or ruffles and lace. I always felt like I was born in the wrong era, and surely should’ve been a Southern Belle. October 31st gave me the opportunity to live out my heart’s desire as a little girl! I’m always up for a fun event with friends (and dressing up just added to the adventure!).
One of my favorite childhood memories is when I would sit on the back patio with my dad, watching him carve out the face of a pumpkin, while the wind piled up fall leaves all around me. When he finished with the carving, the whole family would pile in the car (I’d be in some outlandish “Southern Belle” garb) and away we’d go on our annual trek to the neighborhoods. It was a fun family adventure and highlight of the year for me.
I never heard about the dark origin of Halloween until I was an older teen. By then, I’d experienced tons of church festivals, a few gruesome haunted house experiences, and plenty of innocent and not-so-innocent Halloween events. So I enter this discussion, not as an expert, but as one that has celebrated (and even enjoyed) the holiday in the past.
You may be like I was and you grew up viewing it as a fun day and you’ve never heard of Halloween’s pagan roots. There’s a ton of information I could share, but I’m going to limit it to a blog-size chunk.
Do you know how we got the term Halloween for this holiday? It was derived from “All Hallows’ Evening.” In ad 835, Pope Gregory IV designated November 1st as “All Saints’ Day” and the term “hallow” was also used (in reference to saints), thus the similar phrase, “All Hallows’ Evening” (the eve of) also referred to October 31st. Drop the word “All,” drop the “s,” “v” and the “ing” on evening, and you’ve got the word: Halloween.
But the celebration on October 31st was around long before that. Halloween developed in an attempt to replace the festival celebrated by the ancient Druids (the priestly class of the Celtic religion).
The pagan Samhain festival was a celebration of the final harvest, death, and the onset of winter. It lasted for three days: October 31st to November 2nd. The Celts believed the curtain dividing the living and the dead lifted during Samhain to allow the spirits of the dead to walk among the living. They believed that ghosts were haunting the earth.
Some of the Celts observed the season of haunting by engaging in occult practices (divination and communication with the dead). They sought input from these spirits (actually demons) and the spirits of their ancestors, asking for information about the weather for the coming year, asking about what to expect with crop yields, and even seeking input for their romantic pursuits.
Superstitions developed from fear of these “haunting spirits.” The Celts began the tradition of leaving treats, food, or gifts to satisfy, ward off, or send away the evil spirits. This still occurs in countries where animism is practiced. (For a brief explanation of animism click here. For a more detailed look at animism and how it conflicts with a biblical worldview click here.)
The fear of spirits harming those who didn’t leave a satisfactory “treat” developed into the idea of “trick” or “treat.” If you don’t treat a spirit properly, it may come back to haunt you with a “trick.” Spirits who weren’t satisfied with your “treat” or gift to them, supposedly would assume grotesque and frightening appearances.
This superstition led to the tradition of wearing a costume in hopes of fooling the wandering spirits. Others tried to ward off these “spirits” by carving a grotesque face into a gourd or other root vegetable and setting a candle inside it, thus the development of the jack-o-lantern.
Most people don’t consider the origin of Halloween or have a problem with its gruesome and dark overtones—obviously, because this year analysts are expecting us to spend $6.9 billion (yep, I said BILLION!) on the holiday. From the beginning of September, it is apparent that we live in a Halloween-obsessed culture. For most people Halloween is just an opportunity to have fun, grab some candy treats, and maybe dress up as a funny character.
When I first heard about the origin of Halloween, I realized that it represented the dark realm that I’d been delivered from as a Christian. This realization placed me in the dilemma of wondering what to do with this once clearly pagan and animistic holiday. Tomorrow, I’ll share with you more of that journey.
But today, I‘d like to hear from you. What do you typically do on October 31st?
[box]You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.
You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 5:13–16)[/box]