Today Americans celebrate Halloween with children's trick-or-treating and costume parties, but few really understand the origins of this secular holiday. The word Halloween is derived from "All Hallowed's Eve" the night before the Catholic holiday of Nov. 1st "All Saints Day" which commemorates the saints of the church and those martyred for their faith. Originally it was celebrated on May 13th, but Pope Gregory III moved it to Nov. 1, the dedicate date for the All Saints Chapel in St. Peter’s at Rome.
While there has been some controversy over why the Nov. 1st date was chosen, some believe it was an attempt of the church to "Christianize" the ancient Irish celebration of "Samhain" which celebrated the end of the harvest season with bonfires, sacrifices of animals and feasting. Though there are some similarities in the rituals to Hallowed Eve practices, some modern historians do not believe there is a link between the two.
In addition, there are some similarities also to Guy Fawkes' Day which was celebrated in England on Nov. 5th. Party goers would put on masks and visit local Catholics in the dead of night, demanding beer and cakes for their celebration: trick or treat! Some of these traditions were brought to America but soon were forgotten. Though the idea of trick or treat was not and was merged with "Halloween" which became popular in the United States in the 1800's.
According to some, the idea of adding witches was an attempt of the card companies to popularize exchanging cards on Halloween which failed, though the witch remained because of its association with ghouls and ghost. In the late 1800's The jack-o-lantern was added based on an Irish myth about a man nicknamed "Stingy Jack" who invited the devil to have a drink with him and played some tricks on him. When Jack died he wasn't allowed into heaven because of his association with the Devil and so it was said Jack tried to trick people into giving up their souls by putting a piece of coal in a turnip. Across Scotland and Ireland it became popular to carve scary faces in turnips, beets, potatoes and pumpkins to ward off Jack and evil spirits. The tradition was then brought to America by the Irish emigrants, though it faded for a while and then resurfaced as part of Halloween celebrations.
So these are some of the influences that make up the Americanized version of Halloween. While some Christians believe it is a harmless, fun filled evening of trick or treating, others believe it is fraught with Satanic significance and demonic activity. Just take a look at some of the images that typify the celebration: ghosts, goblins, witches, scary pumpkin faces, skeletons, coffins, cemeteries... everything centered around death and darkness, the macabre and morose.
In recent years there has been a rise in interest in the occult and the practice of witchcraft as evidenced in the popularity of books and movies on these subjects. Over 500,000 copies of the Satanic Bible are in print and the interest in Wicca, a pagan religion comprised of witches and goddess worship is also on the rise. Newspapers have also uncovered stories of animal sacrifices taking place in cemeteries around Halloween and other occult rituals. One cannot deny that these practices are the opposite of what Christ came to do: dispel darkness and draw mankind to the light of Jesus Christ.
The Bible warns us in Deuteronomy 18: 10-14 to "Let no one be found among you who ... practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead." As an aside, the word witchcraft is derived from the Greek word "pharmacea" from which we get our word pharmacy. It refers to drugs, which certainly has become a major issue in this country and around the world. But back to Halloween and our culture, which has become increasingly interested in the activities mentioned above. Shouldn't those who consider themselves Christians avoid these and their associated activities? Cannot we take back what the devil has stolen? Yes!
Consider Harvest as an alternative to Halloween. The gathering of pumpkins, apples, corn, the bounty of the land and the beautiful fall foliage, apple cider and donuts. Focus on the positive qualities and the fruit of this wonderful season of autumn. Plant those pictures into your children's minds, rather than the darkness of Halloween witches and Freddy Cougar look alikes. Replace ghosts and goblins with stories from the Bible that celebrate the gathering of harvest and positive role models. Think of fun activities one can explore during Harvest, like dunking for apples or eating donuts from a string. Paint pumpkins bright colors with happy faces, carve a cross, a Christian fish or a heart symbolizing Jesus' love..It takes just a little creativity to turn the death and darkness of Halloween into a celebration of life!