Where did Halloween come from? Should it be observed? Few realize just how enlightened, twentieth-century man came to observe such a superstitious custom.
Halloween is the strangest holiday of the entire year. On the eve of November L children dress as goblins or witches and knock on doors, yelling "trick or treat." Some soap windows of schools and stores, while others actually tear down mailboxes, steal objects left unguarded in a person's yard, and give the police a great many headaches with their juvenile vandalism. To perpetuate this spirit of Halloween with its frolicking fun, stores are filled with black and orange masks. pumpkins, and other gaudy decorations that attract the eye. Even some older people enjoy Halloween's decorations, games, and frivolity. In this "enlightened" age, with ignorance and superstition supposedly banished, nations are still celebrating the old holiday, with its goblins, the fear of black cats, and children masked as demons and witches. In schools, children participate in Halloween parties, anticipating a hectic night of fun and foolishness.
The Strange Origin of a Strange Holiday
Is this the way in which children should be brought up? Why is this holiday celebrated anyway? Where did the custom of "trick or treat" originate? It is time that people who think themselves intelligent began to look into the origin of this spirit of frivolity and understand how it entered a supposedly Christian society. How did we get Halloween? It certainly isn't Christian in origin. "In fact, Halloween and many of the embellishments surrounding this strange festival are of superstitious and pagan origin. The American celebration can be traced back to Celtic folk customs, which in turn originated in pre-Christian times. The earliest Halloween celebrations were held by the Druids in Britain in honor of Samhain, lord of the dead, whose festival fell on November 1. On this night, it was believed that Samhain called together the wicked souls that had with in the preceding 12 months been condemned to inhabit the bodies of animals.
Spirits Casting Evil Spells
It was a pagan belief that on one night of the year the souls of the dead returned to their original homes to be entertained with food. If food and shelter were not provided, these spirits were believed to cast spells on those failing to fulfill their requests. It was the original trick or treat, a time when wicked spirits visited their earthly haunts. "It was the night for the universal walking about of all sorts of spirits, fairies, and ghosts, all of whom had liberty on that night," Alexander Macgregor tells us in his Highland Superstitions. And the liberty was often of a destructive nature, so the belief went. But why was November I chosen for this annual spiritual get-together? The Celts and other northern people considered November 1 as their New Year. This was the time when the leaves were falling and a general seasonal decay was taking place. It seemed a fitting time for the commemoration of the dead. Since the northern nations at that time began their day in the evening, the eve leading up to November 1 was the beginning of the festival. According to the Roman calendar, in which days began at midnight, it was the evening of October 31. And the meaning of Halloween? It is a contraction of All Hallow Evening, later to be known as All Saints' Day. Halloween was kept in one form or another throughout the pagan world. "There was a prevailing belief among all nations that at death the souls of good men were taken possession of by good spirits and carried to paradise, but the souls of wicked men were left to wander in the space between the earth and moon, or consigned to the unseen world. These wandering spirits were in the habit of haunting the living. But there were means by which these ghosts might be exorcised" (Folklore, James Napier, p. 11).
To exorcise these spirits, that is, to free yourself from the supposed evil sway, you would have to set out food — give the demons a treat — and provide shelter for them during the night. If they were satisfied with your offerings, they would leave you in peace. If provoked, they would "trick" you by casting an evil spell on you. Leaving food about didn't always satisfy the spirit world. Sometimes more drastic measures needed to be employed to escape their wrath such as starting bonfires. Uninvited spirits, fairies, and ghosts were believed to wander around the area and could only be dispersed by bonfires or burning torches. John Brand, in his Popular Antiquities of Great Britain, written in 1849, mentions that during his lifetime there was a custom in north Wales on the eve of November I of "making a great fire called Coel Coeth, when every family for about one hour in the night made a great bonfire in the most conspicuous place near the house." Sinclair's Statistics of Scotland for 1793 shows that in Perthshire on the eve of November 1, bonfires were lit in every village. In Ireland, the custom of displaying lighted candles in the windows of the house on this night was common practice as late as the nineteenth century. This, then, is the way the Western world celebrated their Halloween. their All Saints' Day. Although some aspects of the Halloween festival varied with each country, the overall pattern and purpose remained the same. But how did the professing Christian world come to accept and observe such a day as Halloween?
Halloween Becomes "Christianized"
When Charlemagne invaded and conquered Saxon Germany early in the nineteenth century, he compelled the conquered German king. Wittekind, to be baptized and to accept Christianity. Wittekind's Germans, now professing Christians, and other conquered peoples soon began to exert a profound influence on the ecclesiastical affairs of the church. These conquered people brought with them outright pagan practices and celebrations. Halloween being one of them. They were fervent in clinging to their past ceremonies and observed them openly, though they were supposedly converted to Christianity. What was the church to do? Excommunicate them and thus reduce its membership? This it would not do. Should it force them into discarding their heathen practices and adopting Roman ones? This, as the church had learned in past times, was impossible. There remained only one other way. Let the recently converted pagans keep certain of their heathen festivals, but call them "Christian." Halloween was one of these festivals. Of course the masses were asked not to pray to their ancient pagan gods on this day. They were told to use this day to commemorate the death of "saints." Originally, the Catholic All Saints' Day was observed in May, and only later (A.D. 834) was it transferred to the beginning of November since the northern nations
The Bible reveals a purposeful way of life for both now and the future. Man's ultimate destiny and the way to prepare for that destiny has absolutely no room for superstitious festivals that are embellished by heathen practices and concepts.
were already observing their Halloween in November. Many other pagan festivals were Christianized in a similar way. Notice just such an admission: "Thus, at the first promulgation of Christianity to the Gentile nations ... they could not be persuaded to relinquish many of their superstitions, which, rather than for ego altogether, they chose to blend and incorporate with the new faith" (Popular Antiquities. John Brand, p. xi).
Now come down to the twentieth century. You might be surprised to what extent our "civilized" world has inherited outright pagan rites and ceremonies from our forefathers, so obvious in the celebration of Halloween. What about you and your children? What comes to your mind when thinking about Halloween? You probably picture weird and frightening masks, persons portrayed as witches and demons, and pumpkins and turnips hollowed out in the shape of eerie-looking faces with lighted candles placed inside to help bring out the more frightful side of these carvings. The Good Housekeeping Book of Entertainment, on page 168 has a section on what to do on Halloween. Notice the advice given: "Orange. black and red, the devil's colors, are the colors associated with Halloween and this scheme should be carried out as far as possible.... Have paper streamers and lanterns hanging from the ceiling, or, if you would, like to have something less usual, you could make a giant spider's web with black and orange strings, or in narrow strips or crepe paper coming from the four corners of the room, complete with a large spider — one of the devil's favorite followers." Notice further the aspects of black magic associated with this festival: "To decorate the walls, make large silhouettes of cats, bats, owls and witches on broomsticks.... For the supper table small witches with broomsticks can be made by using lollipops on 4-inch sticks."
The Origin of Our Ideas
Halloween and other common festivals which people observe in the Christian-professing world have no biblical basis and often originated in rank paganism. You ought to sit down and ask yourself how many other formerly pagan ceremonies have received a Christian dressing and ecclesiastical sanction. It's time we questioned the origin of the practices we follow and the beliefs we adhere to. As for Halloween, the testimony of history stamps it a heathen festival. Of course, right here many people might say, "Well, what difference does it make? We don't worship spirits. It's all harmless fun for the kids." The Bible reveals a purposeful way of life now and in the future. Man's ultimate destiny and the way to prepare for that destiny has no room for superstitious festivals embellished by heathen practices and concepts. As professing Christians, we should opt for the true religion and not be sidetracked by superstitious and meaningless practices. True Christianity must always have its basis in the divinely inspired Word of God. The spiritual concepts and religious practices of Jesus Christ — so often ignored and often wholly discarded — must not be minimized if we are to lead a meaningful and rewarding life.
Gerhard O. Marx is a freelance writer and lecturer on ecclesiastical history, as well as a frequent contributor to The Plain Truth.