No, I’m not kidding. Halloween is part of the Christian calendar. It’s our holiday. The only reason it doesn’t look like it is because we’ve allowed the pagans to take it over. We’ve even allowed them to claim it has pagan origins, despite a total lack of evidence.
Secular pagans focus largely on the costumes, candy, parties, and having fun with scary or gory things, like ghosts and spiders and death. The religious Pagans—the Pagans with a capital P, who practice ancient nature religions—actually don’t celebrate Halloween. They celebrate the vernal equinox, the end of summer and beginning of winter, the turn of the seasons, or the harvest. They call it by its Celtic name, Samhain (pronounced soun, like “sound” without the D) a contraction of sam fuin, “summer’s end.” They actually claim their holiday came first, and we Christians stole it and Christianized it.
As every educated Christian knows, we Christians stole all our holidays from the Jews. We added saints’ days and Christmas, and the associated holidays of Christmastime and Eastertime. Sometimes they coincide with pagan holidays, as Christmas does; and sometimes people added the pagans’ customs to our holidays, usually without the endorsement of church leaders.
But that can’t be said of Samhain and Halloween. When we look at the way the ancient Celts practiced it, next to none of their practices are part of the American version of Halloween. The Celts didn’t wear costumes. There was food, including sweets, but no door-to-door hunt for candy. There were no pranks. There were pumpkins, but they weren’t carved into wacky faces or baked into muffins. You might find a bonfire today, and you’ll certainly find ghost stories. That’s about it. Halloween resembles Samhain about as much as Cinco de Mayo resembles Memorial Day: They only thing they have in common is beer, but every holiday has beer.
Contrary to what Pagans claim, Samhain wasn’t a religious holiday. It was a secular one. Nearly every culture celebrated the harvest (including the Jews; that’d be Pentecost) and why wouldn’t they? Wouldn’t you celebrate if you now had fresh produce after months and months of the preserved, stewed, dried, or stale stuff? The Celts harvested their crops, lit bonfires, enjoyed their fresh food (’cause come winter, it wouldn’t be fresh for a nice long while), and partied like it’s 199. Then they’d butcher the rest of the animals they’d need to eat over winter, stockpile the rest of the grain, and get ready for it to get cold.
During celebrations, if you believe in gods, you thank them. Look at Thanksgiving in the United States: Some of us pray and thank God. Some don’t, and are just “thankful,” but thank no one. Some of us make a big religious deal of it, and invite or feed the needy, and take time out of the meal to talk about God’s blessings for the year. Most of us eat till we can’t move, then go watch football. The Celts would have sex, which right there makes Samhain way more interesting than Thanksgiving.
But Samhain was a secular holiday, and the Pagans have Paganized it. And they don’t celebrate it like the Celts did either. Frequently Pagans originally grew up Christian, and left Christianity to become Pagan because they got tired of dead religion. I can’t say I blame them. Dead religion sucks. But as a result, Pagans avoid traditions like the plague. Samhain observances vary from group to group, and about they only thing they have in common is, once again, bonfires. If that; if it’s “too traditional” for comfort, they don’t bother.
Ironically, Christians who believe Halloween is Pagan call many of their Christian alternatives to Halloween “harvest festivals.” But let’s put all the Pagan stuff aside and get to Halloween’s actual history.
Where Halloween came from.
As I said, Christians have celebrated saints’ days, usually on the anniversary of a prominent Christian’s martyrdom, although more recently, like Martin Luther King Day, we’ve used their birthdays. For any saints whom we skipped—people who weren’t well-known or popular enough to merit their own day, but God knows who they are, and appreciates them—Christians added “all-saints days” to honor the rest. The eastern church has a bunch of all-saints days scattered throughout the year. The western church consolidated all of them into one in May 610. And by the 9th century, our All Saints Day was moved to November 1.
Since people went to church in the evening, they’d celebrate All Saints Eve the night before. England called it “All Hallows Evening” (“hallows” meaning “holy ones”) which was contracted to Hallow-E’en. The candy and costumes came later. They began with dressing as saints, and devolved into dressing like Batman.
I grew up in Fundamentalist churches. Back then, Christians still celebrated Halloween, and I went to many church-run Halloween parties. But in the 1970s and ’80s, conservative Christians stopped celebrating Halloween. Largely this due to the influence of fake “ex-Satanists” like Mike Warnke, who’d tell outrageous but totally fabricated stories about what devil-worshipers do on Halloween. None of it was true, but some people will believe anything, and Larson made good money lecturing in churches about the evils of Halloween. Pagans also got into the act, and began spreading the story we stole their holiday. By the 1990s, Halloween parties were either dropped, or turned into “harvest parties.” We abandoned our own holiday.
Consequently the lowercase-p pagans, bereft of any Christian influence, left to their own devices, escalated the pranking and violence and inappropriate costumes to their present-day levels.
Fighting evil on Halloween.
Can we do anything about the way people celebrate Halloween nowadays? Of course we can. If we get involved, and use it as the ministry and outreach opportunity it is.
But lots of Christians don’t care to. They consider Halloween “evil,” and sometimes go out of their way to make sure their “harvest parties” look nothing like Halloween. Some discourage costumes. Some discourage candy. Some replace the parties with a worship service. Others will be Halloween parties in all but name.
However, if you want to do something to fight evil, these parties tend to reach out to the wrong group. The children aren’t the ones pranking, drinking, dressing inappropriately, and getting into trouble. The youth—teenagers and young adults—are. The churches need to reach out to them if we want to provide an alternative to evil. But most “harvest festivals” are child-oriented, and teenagers are rarely invited. Consequently the youth have nothing to do but run off and raise hell. So they do.
As for remembering the saints… well, the Roman Catholics and some mainline churches still do. A little.
Yeah, it’s depressing. Christians are supposed to take territory, not cede it. Halloween is a defeat, and deep down we Christians know it, which is why the holiday bothers us so much. As it should. We need to take it back.