Posts Tagged ‘Holiday’
This is part 2 of the 3 part series on the Christian and Halloween.
History of Halloween
Medieval and Modern
In Medieval times, the Roman Catholic Church enjoyed great influence not just religiously and politically, but also culturally. Pope Boniface IV declared November 1 as “All Saints Day” and subsequently October 31 became known as “All Hallows Eve.” Merging the pagan Roman holidays with Catholic religious observances was a decidedly political attempt to increase the ever growing power of the Catholic church and to hold onto the control she exhibited even tighter. Instead of fighting against society, the church could integrate religiosity into society. Incidentally, the church would eventually make (about AD 1000) November 2, “All Souls Day” which would eerily be reminiscent of the Samhain celebration of the Celts. The day was to commemorate the departed and large bonfires, parades, and costumes picturing angels, devils, or departed Saints. The three days together became known as “Hallowmas”
One specific European religious tradition mingled with the Samhain traditions would turn into what we know today as trick-or-treat. On November 1, poor individuals would go door to door begging for food in exchange for prayers to the Saints on “All Souls Day” (November 2). Different European traditions engaged in “a-souling” differently, but it soon became a tradition enjoyed by more than the poor. The American tradition of trick-or-treating (and it is a decidedly American tradition) is a combination of the pagan festival of Samhain with the wearing of costumes and the religious practice of “souling.” It is interesting to note that Americans in most every holiday observance have borrowed practices from multiple cultures. This coincides with America’s “melting pot” demarcation given. As far as the “trick” part of trick or treating, there is not much history to understand this. It appears that the phrase was not used until after the 1930’s, but historians are uncertain as to where it came from. It is generally understood to be a playful jab by those “begging” for treats, that if they don’t pay up, they will pay otherwise. It is true, however, that vandalism does seem to peak around Halloween time. As to the story that individuals were afraid of receiving a trick by evil spirits and so they gave gifts to pagans at their door (or various other renditions of the story), there is no reliable historical evidence of such.
Another tradition that has found its way into American Halloween is the carving of pumpkins into “jack-o-lanterns.” This tradition is based upon an Irish myth. The story goes that “Stingy Jack” made several pacts with the Devil but always bested the Devil. When Jack died, God would not allow him into heaven, but the devil would not allow him into hell (I know we have some major theological problems, but it is myth). He was a wandering spirit then roaming the world with only a coal to light his way. Supposedly, Jack put this coal in a carved out turnip. The Irish and Scottish told this urban legend as a “ghost story” and began carving out scary faces in potatoes and turnips to ward off “Stingy Jack” and other wandering spirits by making their own “Jack O’Lantern” putting them at their door. Immigrants brought this tradition to America and found that pumpkins made the perfect “jack-o-lanterns.” Why make these carvings at Halloween? It was an otherwise “frightful” holiday, and pumpkins are ripe at this time.
The modern holiday of Halloween is not so simple as to just call it the “Devil’s Holiday” or “Hell-oween.” It is a mixture of pagan and religious, ancient and modern, American and European traditions and practices. It is my opinion, that we do more harm than good when we spread urban legends and myths about the origins of Halloween in order to “scare” Christians from participating. I believe an honest look at the real history of Halloween is enough to at least give the committed Christian pause in considering a celebration of Halloween. So what should the Christian do with Halloween?
To be continued. . .
This is Part 1 of a 3 part series written primarily for Christians who wonder about their participation in Halloween. Stay tuned!
Every year around the end of September, Christian publications and blogs begin a monthly process debating whether a Christian should observe Halloween. With this happening every year, you would think that eventually Christians would at some point have come to a determination regarding this holiday. So I decided I would throw my hat into the ring of ambiguity.
It is always helpful to understand an author’s background and perspective when reading opinion literature. I grew up in a very conservative home and church where separation was taught and practiced. There were issues of separation that were taught that when I look back on today, I must admit they were extra-biblical; but for the most part, my upbringing was conservative but not extreme (at least in my family). You can imagine then that Halloween was not celebrated in our house or church. I remember the fall-festivals (church alternatives to Halloween) in which some really seemed eerily similar to Halloween with haunted houses and costume parties, but the name Halloween was definitely eschewed. We did not go trick-or-treating and I remember handing out candy to our neighbors along with gospel literature, but secretly hoping no one would come to our door so that I could eat the left-over candy. So I have fond memories of Halloween, not of witches and goblins and “dark” parties, but of times at home with my sisters and my parents. But those fond memories had nothing to do with a Halloween celebration, they were memories of time with my family, really not that much different than another day of the year. I even remember as a child being so thankful that my family did not allow trick-or-treating because being a shy child with a speech impediment and a mild form of anthropophobia, I could not imagine knocking on the door of a stranger to ask for candy. Whereas there may not have been consistencies in my church fellowship regarding the celebration of Halloween, I recall that there was consistency within my home. We were discouraged from watching movies, reading books, or any other form of engagement in the horror genre or magical arts at any time during the calendar year.
It should be obvious that my upbringing has had an effect on my present perspective of Halloween, namely that I still do not like it and really do not want much, if anything, to do with it. I prefer to just sit at home with my family, turn the lights off and enjoy a quiet evening (notice I did not say that is the right thing to do, but rather is what I would like to do). Although I may have a negative presupposition regarding Halloween, in this discourse, I hope to be objective in handling the question of what Christians should do with Halloween. For sake of time, I am not going to be dealing with the possibility that Christians could celebrate “Reformation Day” as an alternative to Halloween. The argument before us is the one which applies to this author in my current culture. The celebration of the modern holiday come to be known as Halloween.
History of Halloween
Modern Halloween observances are taken from a mixture of ancient Celtic practices, Roman Catholic religious expressions, European folk traditions, Roman festivals, and various urban legends. Being able to distinguish fact from fiction is not easy as they often blend together. Most agree that the most ancient origins of Halloween can be traced to the Celtic practice of celebrating the festival of Samhain. The Celts celebrated their New Years on November 1 and as superstitious pagans, they believed that the day before the New Year spirits (both good and bad) would be released as the line separating the living and the dead became unstable. Many believed that the evil spirits would seek to steal the living and therefore costumes were worn to “mask” individual’s identities. They also believed the good spirits would enable the Druids, the pagan priests, to better tell fortunes. So while in costumes (usually animal heads and furs), they would practice telling each other’s fortunes around large bonfires. Periodically they would offer crops and animals as sacrifices upon those bonfires. From what we can tell, the stories of human sacrifice or virgins being kidnapped to appease the deities are urban legends.
By AD 43, the Romans had conquered Celtic regions and had mixed Samhain celebrations with their own festivals. Interestingly, one such Roman festival is where some believed bobbing for apples came from as the festival celebrating Pomona (goddess of fruit and trees) is symbolized by an apple. The Roman festivals also contained the primary content of celebrating the passing of the dead.
(To be continued. . . )