It’s this time of the year again when zealous Christians start posting about the evils of halloween and why “real” Christians ought not to celebrate it. Obviously these “real” Christians haven’t read enough history about it, else they would be fully aware that “halloween” is a Christian creation. More accurately, it was a pagan holiday hijacked and adopted by Christianity (much like Christmas and Easter).
The word “halloween” is a contraction of two words, hallow (meaning “holy”) and evening. The early Christians called it “All Hallows’ Evening” or “All Hallows’ Eve” — the night before All Hallows’ Day (what we now call All Saints’ Day). It was the beginning of a 3-day celebration commemorating the dead, the saints and martyrs, and the souls of faithful, deceased believers. So Halloween, All Saints’ Day, and All Souls Day are all tied together as Christian holidays.
Many scholars believe that halloween’s pagan origins came from a Gaelic tradition known as Samhain (pronounced as sah-win), which signaled the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter. They believed that at this time, the boundaries between the spirit world and the physical world became thinner and that spirits, fairies, and souls of the dead would roam around. That is why on that evening, they would offer prayers of protection and leave offerings of food and drink outside their homes for these spirits to partake and be satisfied, and would thus leave them unharmed.
This belief gave rise to the tradition of “trick or treat” which started as early as the 16th century. People would go around different homes disguised as spirits or ghosts and they would be offered food. Those who failed to do so, or who did not welcome these impersonators, were seen to have bad luck. The custom later evolved when a group of boys began going around with blackened faces, threatening to do actual mischief to households that didn’t show them hospitality.
Christians began celebrating All Hallow’s Day in the 6th century CE, on May 13 — a date coinciding with the Roman festival of the dead called Lemuria. During the 9th Century, Pope Gregory IV officially changed the date to November 1, coinciding with many Germanic and Celtic feasts of the dead. It was thought to be more appropriate because as the beginning of winter, this was when plants “died” as well.
During the 12th century, it was an established tradition and part of the church’s liturgical calendar. People would bake “soul cakes” and give them to poor people who roamed different homes, taking the cakes in exchange for praying for the souls of the departed (at this point, my protestant readers will protest and say “but that’s not biblical,” nevertheless, that was the official belief at that point in time)
The custom of wearing disguises stemmed from the belief that halloween was the last day that the souls of the dead could take revenge on whoever wronged them in life, before they departed into another realm. So they were especially active on this night. So it was believed that wearing disguises would prevent these souls from recognizing the persons underneath, and that impersonating dead people would make these souls believe that they were fellow dead and would therefore leave them unharmed.
That then is a brief summary of the halloween tradition. And since it was created by Christianity, Christians calling it evil and satanic makes as much sense as them calling Christmas or Easter evil and Satanic.
Have a happy Halloween. Boo!
Originally published in Sunstar Davao.