Halloween began as the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced sow-in). Samhain celebrated the end of the Celtic year – October 31st- and the beginning of the new year. This beginning was associated with harsh winter climates and death. So it was not something the Celtics looked forward to. They believed that the transition between one year and the next was very supernatural. It was a time when the boundaries between the living and the dead were blurred. Spirits of the dead would visit bringing clarity to the Druids (the Celtic priests) allowing them the ability to prophecy about the coming winter. The Celtics relied heavily on this prophecy for hope throughout the coming months. The evening of October 31st everyone in town would extinguish the fire in their hearths and come together in town to build an enormous bonfire. Being together on this night of blurred boundaries protected them from harm. The fire was a spiritual ritual where animal sacrifices were made in exchange for protection from the evil spirits. After midnight everyone would light torches from the bonfire to carry back to light their individual hearths. This common fire was believed to protect them throughout the winter.
By 43 AD, Romans had conquered most of the Celtic lands. They adopted the festival of Samhain as a Roman holiday. They changed it into a two-day celebration. The first day, Feralia, was set aside to honor their dead ancestors. The second day was a day to honor the Roman goddess of the fruits and trees,
By the 800s, Christianity had spread widely through the Celtic territory. The pope now claimed their ancient celebration and redeemed it for church purposes. November 1st was now declared All Saint’s Day – a day to honor all the saints and martyrs. It was also called All-Hallowmas. October 31st was deemed All-Hallows Eve, then later Halloween.
In 1000 AD the church added November 2nd to the celebration – All Soul’s Day. This was a day to honor the dead by dressing in costumes as either saints, angels, or devils. This is where the tradition of dressing up began – in the Catholic church.
I have received countless e-mails and publications from churches declaring Halloween evil. They recount the origins of Halloween as a day where men would dress in masks and go door to door asking shouting “Trick-or-Treat.” The treat would be time with a virgin daughter of the homeowner – most stories recount horrible things like rape and brutality. If the homeowner refused, he would be tortured – the trick. This legend has no basis in reality. If you trick-or-treat with your children, you are not condoning this ancient myth. In fact, the origins of trick-or-treating began during the Catholic’s All Soul’s Day celebrations. Christians would walk through town begging for soul cakes, small bread-like cakes made with currants. Each soul cake symbolized a prayer the Christian would say on behalf of the giver. The more soul cakes each person received, the more prayers would go up. The tradition grew to include children. People would offer more than just soul cakes – including money, fruits, and sweet breads – in return for prayers for protection against the devil’s tricks.
Incidentally a lot of people who shun Halloween and judge others for allowing their children to participate in a holiday of pagan origin also celebrate Christmas on December 25th. Christmas began as a pagan, hedonistic day celebrating and worshipping Roman gods and the winter solstice. The Roman god of the sun, Mithra, was believed to have been born on December 25th. This time of the winter solstice and celebrations included heavy drinking. Again, the pope tried to redeem the day hundreds of years after Christ’s birth. It is believed that Christ was actually born in early spring as shepherds did not herd sheep in the middle of winter, and His birth was not even celebrated until this time. In fact, the reason for declaring December 25th to be Christmas was strictly evangelical. Christians believed that, since people were used to celebrating on that day, Christ would more easily be embraced. Easter was already celebrated in the spring, so the pope came up with another aspect of His life to celebrate on the 25th of December.
This is all to say that Halloween in and of itself is not evil. If you choose to celebrate that day with your children, you are not a horrible person. I think Christians can easily and intelligently join the celebration of the harvest, fall, costumes, and candy without compromising their beliefs. And I don't think we have to do all that under a different name like "Fall Festival" or "Harvest." A day cannot be innately evil, and I think Halloween is a great opportunity for learning and for having fun. A lot of the holidays that we celebrate are not Christian in origin. But we can teach our children a lot through customs and traditions. It is all about the heart of the parents in my opinion.
So we will take our children Trick-or-Treating (we already go every year with our nephews). We will allow them to dress up (in appropriate costumes, of course). And we will eat candy until our bellies hurt and take pictures and carve pumpkins and laugh and make memories all to the glory of God. Happy Halloween!