Halloween is considered by many to be a secular holiday rather than a religious one. According to some, Halloween hearkens back to the Celtic festival of Samhain. Part harvest festival, part New year celebration, Samhain was an ancient Celtic and Druidic observance which began on November 1.
They believed that during the night between the new and old year, the boundaries between the world of the living and of the dead blurred or weakened, allowing the dead to return and cause trouble. It was also a time when the priests could more accurately foretell the future. To commemorate this time, they built huge sacred bonfires and burned sacrifices of crops and animals to their gods.
Later, after Rome had conquered the British Isles, they brought with them two new ideas-Feralia, or a day commemorating the dead, and a day in honor of Pomona, the goddess of fruits and trees. Her symbol was the apple, which some say is the origin of our “bobbing for apples”.
When Christianity came to Ireland and Britain, it brought the observance of All Saints Day. This was a day to celebrate the martyrdom of all saints, known and unknown. Originally celebrated in the spring, around Easter, it was moved to November 1 by Pope Gregory III (731-741). The day was ordered to be celebrated by Pope Gregory IV. Moving the Catholic celebration of All Saints Day to November 1 replaced the pagan harvest festival with a catholic observance.
The vigil, or eve, of All Saints Day is the evening before, on the evening of October 31. It is commonly known as All Hallow’s Eve, or Halloween. All Saints Day honors all the martyrs and has been extended to include all saints in heaven. It is celebrated by the Catholic church by going to mass and asking for their prayers on behalf of those still on earth.
The next day, November 2, is All Souls Day and is a time to pray for those souls still in purgatory. Families tend graves on this day and some cook special dinners in observance of the Feast of All Souls.
Where did our traditions come from? Trick or treating may have come over from Britain from the practice of souling. In souling, people would go door to door offering to say prayers for the dead in exchange for treats-usually soul cakes baked for the occasion.
Bobbing for apples may also have come from a divination game played in Britain. Apples were placed in a tub of water and the participants tried to catch one in their mouth. Once caught, the apple was carefully peeled and the peel was used to find the initial of one’s true love.
Should Christians celebrate Halloween? That depends on who you ask. Many fundamental churches feel the pagan roots of the celebration make it a celebration of evil or demonic things. The Catholic church believes their celebration predates the Celtic practices and that All Saints Day is important enough to be considered a Holy Day of Observation. Of course observing the day by going to mass is quite different from going out trick or treating.
So, is Halloween a remnant of a pagan harvest festival? An ancient Druidic celebration on a night when the veil between the worlds is weakened and the dead return?
Or is it a day to go to mass and remember the saints and those departed?
Evil or Christian?