by Good NewsEstimated reading time: 3 minutes
Originally Halloween was a pagan festival oriented around fire, the dead and the powers of darkness.
Most everyone knows that Halloween takes place on Oct. 31. Far fewer, however, understand the connection between Halloween and the next day on the calendar, the festival of All Hallows’ or All Saints’ Day, celebrated by some churches and denominations Nov. 1.
One author surmises that All Saints’ Day was established to commemorate the saints and martyrs of the Roman Catholic Church and was first introduced in the seventh century (Man, Myth, and Magic, Vol. 1, 1983, p. 109). Oddly enough, history shows that Halloween—this ancient, thoroughly pagan holiday with its trappings of death and demonism—is inseparably tied to All Saints’ Day.
Pagan festivals from time immemorial have had a curious way of worming their way into Christianity over the centuries. The Encyclopedia of Religion explains that “the British church attempted to divert the interest in pagan customs by adding a Christian celebration to the calendar on the same date as the Samhain [the ancient Celtic name for the festival that eventually would be renamed Halloween].
“The Christian festival, the Feast of All Saints, commemorates the known and unknown saints of the Christian religion just as the Samhain had acknowledged and paid tribute to the Celtic deities” (1987, Vol. 6, p. 177).
How did this strange turn of events come about—the Catholic Church transforming an ancient pagan festival into one to supposedly honor deceased saints?
The 1913 edition of The Catholic Encyclopedia records this about All Saints’ Day: “In the early days the Christians were accustomed to solemnize the anniversary of a martyr’s death for Christ at the place of martyrdom. In the fourth century, neighboring dioceses began to interchange feasts, to transfer relics, to divide them, and to join in a common feast. Frequently groups of martyrs suffered on the same day, which naturally led to a joint commemoration.
“In the persecution of Diocletian the number of martyrs became so great that a separate day could not be assigned to each. But the Church, feeling that every martyr should be venerated, appointed a common day for all. [Eventually] Gregory III (731-741) consecrated a chapel in the basilica of St. Peter to all the saints and fixed the anniversary for 1 November” (Vol. 1, p. 315).
Pope Gregory’s choice of Nov. 1 for this celebration was significant. Author Lesley Bannatyne explains: “That the date coincided with Samhain was no accident: the Church was still trying to absorb pagan celebrations taking place at this time …
“Villagers were also encouraged to masquerade on this day, not to frighten unwelcome spirits, but to honor Christian saints. On All Saints’ Day, churches throughout Europe and the British Isles displayed relics of their patron saints. Poor churches could not afford genuine relics and instead had processions in which parishioners dressed as saints, angels and devils. This religious masquerade resembled the pagan custom of parading ghosts to the town limits. It served the new church by giving an acceptable Christian basis to the custom of dressing up on Halloween.
“In addition, the Church tried to convince the people that the great bonfires they lit in homage to the sun would instead keep the devil away …” (Halloween: An American Holiday, An American History, 1998, pp. 9, 11).
Later a second celebration, All Souls’ Day, was instituted on Nov. 2. Eventually these two holidays merged into the present observance on Nov. 1, which was also called All Hallows’ Day. The name of All Hallows’ Even (evening) for the night of Oct. 31 evolved into the name Hallowe’en, or Halloween as it is called today.
This is a brief history of how men rationalized taking an ancient pagan festival rooted in death and demonism and adapting it for use as a “Christian” celebration. Regrettably, it flies in the face of God’s explicit instruction to not use pagan practices to worship Him.
He clearly states in Deuteronomy 12:30-32: “… Do not inquire after their gods, saying, ‘How did these nations serve their gods? I also will do likewise.’ You shall not worship the LORD your God in that way; for every abomination to the LORD which He hates they have done to their gods … Whatever I command you, be careful to observe it; you shall not add to it nor take away from it.”