Tag Archives: all saints day

Halloween is Not Pagan

All Hallows Eve, the night before All Saints Day, is upon us again, along with a plethora of social media stories about the supposed pagan origins of Halloween. A quick Google search gives you countless reports of Halloween originating from an Irish Celtic new year festival, Samhain, and being connected to ancient pagan worship practices. I remember first hearing this story given by a well-meaning local pastor who visited a Christian college fellowship back in the 1980s.

Admittedly, I can understand why many Christians today have serious misgivings about Halloween. As a high school teenager years ago, I was part of the problem. When I could hear young trick or treaters walking down our street, I would put my Pink Floyd Echoes album on my turntable, and crank up the speakers to scare the kids. Halloween has indeed become a time of mischief, and the glorification of the occult.

However, if you take a closer look at history, the development of these darker traditions and celebrations popularized by contemporary Wiccan and neopagan groups actually originated in a mishmash of superstitions and religious practices that have arisen since the 19th century, primarily here in America. Contrary to the popular idea that Christians “stole” Halloween from pagan cults, like the Druids, the real origin of Halloween goes back hundreds of years prior to today’s “trick or treating,” when Pope Gregory in the 9th century instigated the move of the Western date for All Saints Day from the springtime to November 1st. This had nothing to do with the Irish Celts. If anything, the Irish more probably picked up the November 1st date from the English, as the Irish were known for celebrating All Saints Day on April 20, which is actually closer to the Christian practice in the springtime, more common in the Christian East.

Christian apologist and YouTuber Michael Jones at Inspiring Philosophy has a helpful short video sorting out fact from fiction about Halloween. For a concise and highly educational article summarizing the same, I would recommend a new blog post by Tim O’Neill at HistoryForAtheists, who specializes in debunking bad history being promoted by atheists and other skeptics.

In the meantime, have a wonderful All Saints Day (and its eve), which might better be remembered as Reformation Day!

How Would You Dress for a Halloween Party?

Recently, I was invited to go to a Halloween party this coming weekend. I need your help. What do I dress up as for this party?

Now, I know that a lot of Christians are deeply suspicious of Halloween: Is it not connected, at least remotely, to some kind of Satanic practice?

Well, the question has a point to make. After all, the timing of Halloween goes back to an ancient pagan festival, some say that was originated in Ireland, marking the beginning of winter. Samhain, pronounced “SAW-in,” from what I have learned, also celebrated the end of the harvest season. Since Samhain is at the same time of year as the traditional date for Halloween, the overlap gives the impression that Halloween has a pagan connection…. And since anything that distracts the believer from whole hearted worship of Jesus Christ could be considered “Satanic,” it only makes sense to raise such suspicion.

All Saints Day was celebrated by early medieval Christians to remember those Christian martyrs and other exemplary Christians who had gone on before them. All Saints Day, though originally in May, was moved to November 1st, under Pope Gregory (731-741 A.D.). All Souls Day, a related Christian festival to remember the faithful departed, particularly deceased relatives, was set on November 2nd. During the Reformation, the All Souls Day fell out of favor. But All Saints Day was held on by the English Anglican Church. All Saints Day is otherwise known as “All Hallows Day,” (Hallows=Holy, or Saint), which is how we get “All Hallows Eve,” or “Halloween,” for the night before on October 31st.

All Saints Day still continues in liturgical traditions that still hold to ancient Christian calendars. Its success explains why, even for today’s pagans, it is difficult to even know for sure what Samhain was like before All Saints/Souls Days came into the mix.

Halloween today is basically secularized, as are most holidays now, but as the 21st century merges into what appears to be a “post-Christian” era in the West, the revival of pagan practices associated with the ancient Samhain festival have started to reappear, such as among contemporary Wiccans. But even most honest observers admit that neo-pagan spirituality is in a continued state of flux, morphing and changing quite a bit.

We can have endless debates about how “Satanic” all of this is. Or we can take a tip from this 3-minute video at John Piper’s desiringgod.org ministries. Do you see Halloween as something to be avoided, or do you see it as an opportunity to be a witness for the Gospel?

Here is my spin on that this year: If Christians really want to “take back Halloween,” then we might want to take a few lessons from church history. I suggested to my wife that instead of a ghost, or something like that, she can dress up as a Christian saint at the party, such as Saint Thecla. Early accounts are sketchy, with various elaborations, but Thecla was surely one of the Apostle Paul’s most well-known converts to the faith, first meeting Paul in what is now modern day Turkey. According to this Eastern Orthodox source, Thecla was forbidden by her mother to go out into the street to hear Paul preach. But she was able to listen outside of her bedroom window, where she heard the Gospel. So, if someone asks my wife, “Who are you supposed to be?,” well, then, she has an opportunity to talk about Thecla’s story as she heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and had her life set free from the fear of darkness and death.

As for me, I am still encouraged by what I wrote about last year, that identifies All Saints Day as the same day that a young, German theology professor named Martin Luther, first nailed his Ninety-Five Theses to the Wittenberg church door.  Maybe, I should try to dress up as Martin Luther?  I would probably have to gain some weight though, in order to be convincing.

The point is this: perhaps one of the best ways to celebrate “All Hallows Eve” is to remember the examples of remarkable Christians who have died and gone before us. If you receive an invitation to a Halloween party, perhaps you can read up a bit on church history, dress up as some Christian figure from the past, and then use the opportunity to share the story of that person you came dressed as, with others at the party. Sure, it sounds a bit geeky, but it is a whole lot more interesting than dressing up as some “Superhero.”

For more on the origins of Halloween, New Testament scholar Ben Witherington has some perceptive comments to share in 3 minutes. In the meantime, I need to figure who I should be…  and find a costume!

UPDATE: November 3, 2015

I need to make correction to an earlier statement, which suggested that the original All Saints Day spring celebration was moved to November 1st, partly to counteract the Samhain fall festival.  A recent post at the Anxious Bench blog, references a work by historian Nicholas Rogers, arguing that while the Irish world, where Samhain came from, originally celebrated a feast for saints in April, the Germanic world, that did not recognize the Irish Samhain, had a feast for saints in November. This undermines the idea that All Saints Day was placed in November in order to try to supplant the Samhain festival. I am glad to be corrected, and so I modified the rest of the blog post. The study of history reveals some interesting surprises and busts a lot of pious fiction.

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