Ghosts, witches, and candles inside pumpkin shells. The evening of October 31st will be party time for some and “I ate too much candy” time for others.
But how did Halloween get started in the first place?
First off, the word “Halloween” is a contraction of the term, “All Hallows’ Evening.” It’s the night before All Hallows’ Day (now more commonly known as All Saints’ Day) … a religious celebration that occurs on November 1st.
But, let’s start at (as nearly as my research can tell) the beginning . . .
The Celts and Samhain
The ancient Celts, who lived in what is now Ireland, the UK, and northern France, celebrated their new year on November 1. This day marked the end of summer and the beginning of the dark, cold winter … a time of year that was often associated with human death. The harvesting of crops was over; now came the time for the harvesting of souls.
Samhain (October 31st), the night prior, was believed to be a time when the veil between the living and the dead was thinnest, allowing the dead to return to the Earth. Celebrants would light bonfires and wear costumes to ward off roaming ghosts. For the Celts, the evening was a serious affair.
The Christians and All Saints Day
Around 600 AD, Pope Boniface IV designated November 1st as “All Saints’ Day” to honor saints and martyrs. This celebration was also called All-hallows, and the night before began to be called All-hallows’ Eve. That is the term that was eventually shortened to Halloween.
Some say the Christian Church often incorporated pagan festivals into the Christian calendar to ease the transition to Christianity. It could be that Pope Boniface IV, however, was offsetting the superstition of Samhain with the truth of Scripture.
That said, Halloween isn’t the only hijacked holiday on the calendar: Easter and Christmas are two prime examples of holy days spun into bunny rabbits and Santa Klaus. We wouldn’t need to look far to find the same trend in other days, beliefs, and customs in America today.
Halloween in the United States
Halloween was not widely celebrated in the United States until the late 19th century when a wave of Irish and Scottish immigrants brought the tradition with them.
The celebration was molded into a community-centered holiday with parties, public events, and harmless pranks — much as it is today.
Marketers, in turn, hopped onto the holiday like flies on cream. Halloween is now one of the most commercialized days of the year. Take a trip to your nearest Target store, for instance, and you’ll see costumes, plastic pumpkins, bags of candy, and pretty well everything you need to get on board the Halloween train.
And all of that made me think of something:
How about you? Is Halloween the time for getting your devil suit on and scaring children? Or is it a time to remember believers who have passed on to glory? I fear that for most Americans … it’s not “All Saints’ Day” any longer.
Note: My father passed away on November 1st, 1989. For me, it’s definitely All Saints’ Day — a time to reflect on life, not to honor evil. The best thing to do when confronted with a lie … is to stand on Truth.