This day divides unbelievers from Christians like no other. Mainstream America interprets the ghostly emphasis as mere fun. We will see that the history of Halloween reveals this day to be a lot more than a superficial emphasis of the dead. The word “Halloween” comes from the Celts- Salowen. Christians interpret this day as a worship of the dead and Satan’s day. Christians today usually offer their congregation and friends an alternative, i.e. “Family Fun Night,” or a “Fall Festival,” with an emphasis on the harvest and blessings of the fall season. Why do Christians interpret many things in a different light? The scriptures convey the answer: Ephesians 6:12 “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” May we examine what history has to offer about this day:
Halloween… is more popular than ever, going back 3,000 years: to Ireland and its’ Celtic tribes. It is the time of mystery and chaos between summer and winter. Between life and death. The Celts asked their priests (Druids) to pray for them. October 31 was the last day for the harvest, and the first day of winter. At this time they thought the Spirit world was so thin that the dead were free to walk back and forth. They thought those who died during the last year walked the earth once more. They thought they had to appease the dead… or else they could trouble and haunt them. The people of the village would leave sweets and food at the edge of the village as gifts for the dead. Hence “trick or treat.” If the villagers left no “treat,” then the dead may come up with a “trick.” Actually, the message should have been “treat or trick.” The “treat” is the offering to appease the dead and stop the “trick” from occurring. The dead come to life on Halloween, hence they wanted to keep them in their graves. The Celts offered blood sacrifices to the gods. The Druids read animal entrails to forecast who would die and prosper in the coming year. Hence the ghost stories on Halloween. Hillbilly rites still feature “granny” doing the same thing. The Celtics have contemporary pagans carrying their traditions.
The Romans also celebrated a time of mystical revelry reflective in Halloween. “Apple bobbing” comes from the Romans leaving fruit and nuts to their gods.
Christians grew and opposed pagans and Halloween. At about 1000 AD, most people like the Celts, worshipped spirits (gods, demonic beings). Constantine’s vision of the cross around 325 AD (Council of Nicea) led to Christianity opposing paganism. The church tried to reason and compromise with pagans but it did not work. So Pope Gregory III declared November 1 All Saints Day for people who did not have a holiday of their own. All Saints Day is All Hallow’s Day (you were “hallowed” to be a saint), hence the eve of all hallow’s or all hallow’s evening (hallow eve became Halloween). The church tried to absorb the pagan holiday but many continued their costumes, offerings to the dead, etc.– they changed their day from Salowen to Halloween. The Church made November 2 “All Saints Day” in order to remember everyone who died in the last year. This was a direct attack on Halloween. Witchcraft concerned the church. (Witch comes from OE wicca or wise one). Witches were seen by the church as unruly feminine powers who tapped into the dark aspects of Halloween. A later pope outlawed pagan religion all together because of their links to witches and the devil. Witches were hung and burned at the stake all over Europe. (1431 Joan of Arc was burned at the stake). Black cats were seen as a witches’ spirit in animal form. Bats became associated with Halloween as they pursued insects at the Halloween bonfires. Mexico’s “Day of the Dead” on All Souls Day combines pagan and Christian elements. Halloween has changed its’ shape to fit local beliefs. Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation rejected All Saints Day, All Souls Day, Halloween and the Pope.
On November 5, 1605 a Catholic militant Guy Fox attempted to blow up the Protestant dominated House of Lords. Ever since then, Guy Fox night is a popular English holiday. It blends with Halloween and they are celebrated together. Guy Fox dummies are burned.
The Puritans rejected Catholicism and Halloween. In 1692, Salem witchcraft resulted in 22 killed as they were accused of being witches. In Virginia, there were Anglicans and Catholics, hence Halloween got a root there. Ghost stories and bobbing for apples were popular here and in other southern colonies. In the early 1800’s, “play parties” became popular- they carved pumpkins, shared ghost stories, and practiced divination over a future husband. Following the Irish “Potato Plight,” Irish immigrants later brought a renewed interest of Halloween to America. Pumpkin carving was adopted in the late 19th century as a cheerier way to receive Halloween from Europe. Witchcraft was extinct from the American holiday by 1900, and children took over the holiday with parties, apple bobbing, etc. The children took Halloween out of the home and into the neighborhood. When this happened, the children became involved in pranks and vandalism- smashing pumpkins, breaking windows, tee peeing trees with toilet paper, and placing implements on roofs. Our specialty in 1960’s Chicago was “soaping” the windows of those who afforded no “treats.” Attempts were made in the 1920’s to make Halloween clean fun. After World War II, Halloween made a come back with the same concerns- keeping it safe. Costume parties (baby boomers) and trick or treating ruled. But the dark side came back in the 1970’s, as razor blades and even poison were placed in trick or treat candy. Recent movies on Halloween have spread the idea that Halloween is evil. The New Age Movement is a spin off of Celtic tradition. Halloween is important to them. Contemporary witches are a new version of the ancient Celtic paganism. Americans spend 2 and 1/2 billion dollars on Halloween, behind only Christmas. More than 1/2 of American homes are decorated. Putting on costumes and visiting haunted houses is popular. Lately, it has become an adult holiday as well. Boomers want to hang on to it.
This day presents a wonderful opportunity for Christians to share our faith with those who realize what a bizarre celebration this truly is. As I write this, there are several homes around me within a stones’ throw, that feature ghosts on their front lawns as well as people exiting their graves. Even as a child I thought the festivities did not compute or make sense. If one does not know the one true God, then by default they will find a substitute. Pray for and share the Gospel with the many lost souls this Halloween. In His Service, Pastor Steve