We’ve heard the stories. Back in the middle ages, druids would wear disguises and would go house to house demanding tribute. And if the person refused, the druids would curse the family. To ward off such evil spirits, families would place lamps made from a gourd upon their porches.
Or something like that. I’m not entirely sure if I got the details right or if it’s even completely true. But that’s what we’ve all been told. We’re also told that Halloween is the single most “powerful” night for witchcraft. Maybe, maybe not.
What we do know is that all kinds of ghostly, haunting, Satanic, bloody, monster, zombie, gory, and otherwise evil things are synonymous with our celebration of Halloween.
But so is candy. And so is little kids dressing up in their favorite princess or super hero outfit.
Yet no matter how hard you look at it, everything about Halloween is of pagan origin. Right? And so many Christians have made the decision to pretend Halloween isn’t even there. If that’s your choice, then that’s your choice. I’m not here to argue against it. You have the right to reject or redeem something in the name of Christ as you choose. But if that is your choice, perhaps there are some things you need to know.
Traditionally, Christianity is notorious for taking existing celebrations from pagan religions and redeeming them to be celebrations for God. And in the process of redeeming these pagan celebrations, certain pagan symbols received new definitions and were also brought into the new Christian celebration. In fact, you’ll be hard pressed to find any Christian celebration that does not include something of pagan origin.
Take Christmas for example. On December 25th we celebrate the birth of Jesus. But where did this day come from? When we look back into the early AD centuries, we see that there are three existing celebrations going on around December 25th. The Romans celebrated Sol Invictus, which was a celebration of the birth of the Unconquered Sun, the patron god of the Roman soldiers. There was also Saturnalia, a very lawless celebration to the god Saturn, that lasted from December 13th to the 25th. (The twelve days of Christmas anyone?) There’s the more universal celebration of the Winter solstice, which occurs on either December 21 or 22 each year. Finally, when we gaze into the workings of the early church, we see that a newly converted Constantine sought to make everything about Christ and we see how Pope Gregory the Great was known for redeeming pagan celebrations for Christian purposes and transforming pagan temples into churches.
And that’s just from the early Roman perspective. There are plenty of other cultural festivities during the solstice time that were absorbed into Christmas. Such as the Germanic pagan celebration of Yule.
There is some argument that Christ was legitimately born on December 25, but the overwhelming evidence and majority of scholars quickly agree that the selection of the 25th as the celebration of Christ’s birth was in response to and an attempt to redeem a very pagan time of the year. Don’t believe me? Google it.
As a result of this synchronistic approach to redeeming these pagan holidays, the early Christians also allowed pagan symbols into the celebration, redeeming them as well. I won’t get into all the details of the pagan roots of Christmas symbols, but I’ll name a few and you can go look them up yourself. Christmas tree, caroling, feasting, wreaths, giving presents, many of the characteristics of Santa, the 12 days of Christmas, eggnog, gingerbread men, garland, lights, Jack Frost. Basically…anything you associate with Christmas that is NOT found in a stable in Bethlehem, has a pagan origin.
Remember when I said above that “no matter how hard you look at it, everything about Halloween is of pagan origin“? Well, that’s not entirely true. You see, November 1, All Saints Day, evolved independently of any pagan celebration of Halloween. Halloween owes its name to All Saints Day (All Hallows Eve, meaning the eve of the hallowed day). And in some cultures, All Saints Day is also know as All Souls Day, and has come across today as Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead). The Day of the Dead became NOT a Celtic Halloween celebration, but a Catholic celebration of All Saints Day where dead saints and family members are celebrated and remembered. It is done so in very macabre fashion, with images, costumes, and such that have directly impacted our modern celebration of Halloween. So those skeleton and zombie costumes? That’s a Day of the Dead thing…which means it came from the independently evolved celebration of All Saints Day, not a pagan holiday.
Just the mere fact that Halloween has ever been a pagan celebration at all is highly debatable. Sure, there are some claims that it goes back to the Celtic harvest celebration of Samhain, but no direct correlation can be proven. It is at best a theory. Those stories about the druids? Just stories with no verifiable historical source. They probably have some element of truth. Maybe the druids did go door to door demanding tribute and threatening curses, but that hardly makes them unique and hardly limits them to one night a year. Religious tyranny of that sort is found all over the world and throughout history. And the collaboration with the Jack-O-Lantern is completely false, because that came from an unrelated Irish myth about Stingy Jack, again independent of Halloween.
So what if Samhain is actually a legitimate root? Well, Samhain was merely a Celtic harvest celebration, which paid tribute to their Celtic deities as such festivals do. The Celts in no way hold the patent on harvest celebrations, because many other cultures did the same thing. And historically Samhain probably wasn’t even celebrated in October. In fact, most pagan holidays associated with the harvest that are “claimed” to be roots of Halloween occurred around the Fall Equinox, which is in late September.
Even as a generic harvest celebration, what’s wrong with that? It’s a time to come together as a community, give God the glory, share our crops with each other, and have some fun before everyone locks themselves up inside for the winter.
In contrast to the dubious origins of what we’ve been told are the pagan roots of Halloween, the celebration of All Saints Day is documented as a Christian celebration, with roots that can be traced way back. So it can be argued that Halloween has come ENTIRELY from the church, from its name to the superstitions about ghosts and such (celebrating the dead saints, remember?), and even costuming (dressing up in honor of someone). Somewhere along the years, other appropriate myths that fit the ghostly superstitions were absorbed into it, making Halloween a Christian holiday bloated by paganism rather than a pagan holiday dressed up like a Christian. And on the count of absorbing pagan myths into the celebration, Christmas is far more guilty than Halloween, often being accused of nothing more than a pagan holiday dressed up with a Christian bow.
So basically this…if you put Halloween side by side with Christmas, weigh the legitimate Christian elements with the pagan elements, evaluate which was originally intended to be Christian and which was not, with the intention of rejecting whichever is most pagan and accepting whichever is most Christian, then you’ve got to accept the truth that Christmas has far deeper pagan roots than Halloween will ever have and should be the first to go. If you’re going to reject Halloween, just by mere definition and mathematics you must reject Christmas as well.
So what do I say? Christians have redeemed so many celebrations and symbols throughout the years, why aren’t we working harder to redeem Halloween when the very name of it is in anticipation of a very real Christian celebration? We haven’t given up on redeeming Christmas, so I say let’s continue to redeem Halloween. Yes, let’s redeem it completely. Throw out all that demon, witch, zombie, bloody, horror, and otherwise evil stuff. Let our children have some fun dressing up as their favorite princesses or super heroes. Come together as a community in celebration of the end of harvest to the glory of God, have some fun, and share some goodies. And let us take time to remember the saints, martyrs, and believers who have gone before us as All Saints Day was meant to do.
And if we do that, the celebration of Halloween becomes just as legitimate and just as Christian as our celebration of Christmas. After all, it kind of already is.