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For a lot of people, Halloween has become synonymous with sweets, costumes, scary stuff, witches, ghosts and pumpkins. But do you know the Christian connection to the holiday?
The true origins of Halloween lie with the ancient Celtic tribes who lived in Ireland, Scotland, Wales and Brittany. For the Celts, 1November marked the beginning of a new year and the coming of winter. The night before the new year, they celebrated the festival of Samhain, Lord of the Dead.
During this festival, Celts believed the souls of the dead ~ including ghosts, goblins and witches ~ returned to mingle with the living. In order to scare away the evil spirits, people would wear masks and light bonfires.
When the Romans conquered the Celts, they added their own touches to the Samhain festival, such as making centerpieces out of apples and nuts for Pomona, the Roman goddess of the orchards. The Romans also bobbed for apples and drank cider ~ traditions which may sound familiar to you.
But where does the Christian aspect of the holiday come into play? In 835 Pope Gregory IV moved the celebration for all the martyrs (later all saints) from May 13 to November 1. The night before became known as All Hallows Evening or “holy evening.” Eventually the name was shortened to the current Halloween. On November 2, the Church celebrates All Souls Day.
The purpose of these feasts is to remember those who have died, whether they are officially recognized by the Church as saints or not. It is a celebration of the “communion of saints,” which reminds us that the Church is not bound in or by space or time.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church says that through the communion of saints “a perennial link of charity exists between the faithful who have already reached their heavenly home, those who are expiating their sins in purgatory and those who are still pilgrims on earth. Between them there is, too, an abundant exchange of all good things” (#1475).
Stories of ghosts first became associated with Halloween in Ireland. It was said that if someone had died the previous year and you were still holding a grudge against that person, he or she would appear to you on the evening before All Saints. You’d be so startled you’d run to do whatever would make your forgiveness complete. Not a bad reminder any time of the year!
Skeletons and skulls are naturally symbols at Halloween because of All Souls Day, “the Day of the Dead,” as some countries call it. It doesn’t hurt us to think about death once a year. We’re all going to die someday. Skeletons and skulls remind us of this. Figures of devils and witches can also remind us of the ever-present temptation to be like God.
Halloween is not “of the devil,” as some fundamentalists say. Many denominations don’t teach about the Communion of Saints, so naturally they don’t celebrate All Saints Day or All Souls Day. All they have left of Halloween is pre-Christian superstition about the dead.
Can a Christian celebrate Halloween?
The answer is simple: Yes and No.
Let’s look at the negative first. The Christian is not to be involved with or support the occult, witchcraft, demonism, or any other thing that uplifts the occult. To do so is to contradict God’s word, dabble in demonic spirits, and invite judgment from God. If a Halloween celebration is centered on demons, devils, spirits, etc., I would say don’t have anything to do with it.
On the other hand, it isn’t wrong to dress up in a costume and go door-to-door saying ‘Trick or Treat.” Provided that the costume isn’t demonic, I can’t see anything wrong with this. It’s just fun for the kids.
Take a look at the Christmas tree. It was originally an ancient fertility symbol, yet it has become a representation of Christmas and the place where gifts are placed. Are the Christians, then, paying homage to an ancient pagan fertility god? No. Not at all.
They do not consider it pagan at all and are simply joining in on a cultural event and giving no honour to anything unbiblical.
Even though Halloween has pagan origins, because of our freedom in Christ, you or your children can dress up in costumes and go door-to-door and just have fun. However, if you are not comfortable with doing this, then you should not. If you know of a person who would be offended by doing it, then you shouldn’t either.