Optional page text here. The Beast's Lair: History of Halloween Re-Posted

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

History of Halloween Re-Posted

I have been asked by a church member to post the history of Halloween. I wrote an article on this topic last year, so I am simply re-posting that article for my readers today. Enjoy!

Inevitably, every year I will get asked why I enjoy Halloween so much. I will get supported by some who say "Halloween is a Christian holiday in origin" and spurned by some who say "Halloween is satanic in origin." Perhaps I can briefly help here.

The church, at least in Baptist circles, have typically made one of two mistakes.
1) Claiming that Halloween is completely Christian in nature and boldly sites "All Saints Day" for their support.
2) Claiming that Halloween is Satanic in origin and boldly sites "The Lord of the Dead" for their support.

The fact is that neither of these assertions holds much water. What follows is an incredibly brief account of the history of the holiday, but my intentions are really just to focus on the two mistakes noted above.

Also, I want to note from the beginning that this post is not really intended to support or refute the holiday. I have some good friends who refuse to have anything to do with Halloween because of their convictions, and I respect that. It is important to know the accurate history of anything we do, but not as a tool to bash anyone who does not celebrate or respond in the same way we do.

So, with that being said, Halloween traces its roots back to the Celtic people of Ireland (The UK) and northern France. They celebrated a festival called Samhain, which is pronounced Sow-in. Samhain was a time that signified the end of the summer and harvest months and the beginning of the cold, dark winter months. This was celebrated on November 1st, and the day before the "new year", October 31st, was believed by Celts to be a magical time where the lines between the living and the dead were not so clear. Celtic priests, called Druids (a quick nod to Spinal Tap here), would light huge bonfires where the village people would come and allow the druidic priests to make predictions, sometimes called divination, about the future of the winter months. Tradition says that these Celts would dress up in wild costumes in order to confuse and scare away the spirits that would be looking for a nice, warm body to inhabit. Other Celtic tradition speaks of the priests burning humans at the stake to make a peace offering the wandering spirits. However, any serious Celtic study of history debunks these stories as myths.

The most important, and completely overlooked by most "church literature" on Halloween is the nature of Samhain. Walk into any Christian bookstore and pick up the pamphlet on Halloween and you will read this: Samhain -- The Lord of the Dead. The concept of Samhain being some kind of god or lord of the dead is the foundation for the satanic element of the origin of Halloween. The problem is that it is completely false. No where in historical records or archeology has there been any account for a god of this nature for the Celts. Rather, Samhain was the term given for the end of summer and the beginning of winter, a celebration to recognize the transition.

Rome and Greece also had their own versions of celebration during this time of the year, which I won't go into here. But, when Emperor Constantine declared Christianity a legal religion, everything began to change. Christianity started spreading around the world and once it met with the Celtic people, something interesting happened. The Christians knew they could not just "do away" with all the Celtic tradition, but they wanted to make it more "Christian." Ultimately, in the 9th century, the Church recognized November 1st as "All Saints Day" or "All Hallows Day" and therefore October 31st became "All Hallows Eve." This was a time to recognize the saints that had died the previous year. You can see how close this was related to the Celtic traditions of old. However, to say that the holiday began with this Christian idea of "All Saints Day" just isn't accurate. There were centuries of tradition that came well before the church had anything to do with it.

Finally, in the 19th century, the potato famine in Ireland brought thousands upon thousands of Irish immigrants to the borders of the United States. With them came their traditions. The holiday was tweaked more for children than anything, offering a night of "trick or treating" to take the place of "souling" that was found in Europe. However, in the last 20 years, Halloween has been claimed by adults. The money generated each year by this holiday is really unbelievable. You can't even go into a drug store without seeing isles and isles of Halloween decor, much of an adult nature.

So, what about celebrating it? Well, when you understand the history and what it is today, you have to ultimately ask yourself, am I comfortable participating in this holiday? It is absolutely true that Halloween is a holiday used by wiccans and other groups who use divination and rely on the spiritual realm, sometimes a dark realm, to fulfill their purposes. For me, Halloween is a wonderful time where the weather is changing from fall to winter, where the atmosphere is so wonderful and where both children and adults can enjoy dressing up, having fun and maybe even getting scared. I will never use Halloween as an opportunity to "scare" people into salvation, and I am completely opposed to "Judgment Houses" that churches offer. Let the holiday just be what it is, a fun time to dress up, enjoy the kids, go to a party, watch a horror movie and carve a pumpkin.


Blogger stephsorrell said...

Ok, I actually read this before. And I really like it. Thanks for posting it again.

October 31, 2007 2:07 PM  
Anonymous rexwilder said...

I realize this is a little off your serious topic, but I saw this again the other day and forgot about this great line (from "Halloween" for any neophytes):

"I have a feeling that you're way off on this."

"You have the wrong feeling." (of course, Dr. Loomis)

That could be a line that the Rex man uses! I love it!

October 31, 2007 2:47 PM  

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