Monday, October 06, 2008

Origins of Halloween

There has been much debate in modern Christianity regarding whether one should celebrate Halloween. While I do not plan to settle the issue once and for all, I would like to present some resources on the origins and practices of Halloween so that my fellow believers can make an informed decision. How much should a Christian participate in this holiday? How can we be "in and not of" the world in this sense? What should a conscientious Christian think about trick-or-treating and other seemingly harmless practices?

HistoryA study of this topic must begin with the history of the holiday.

There is general consensus that the earliest predecessor of Halloween is the Celtic festival Samhain, which was their new year. It marked a transition of seasons from the life of Summer and harvest and the death associated with Winter. It was on this day that the spirits of the dead were animated, and most rituals involved warding off evil spirits while inviting the spirits of loved ones into the house.

The Celts believed that evening before the new year (October 31) was a fragile and chaotic evening, as the dividing line between the physical and spiritual was very thin. Thus, while the spirits were frolicking about the land, so were many people. They saw it as a great time for practical jokes and trickery. Often people would to door to door, pretending to be these wandering spirits, requesting treats and threatening a trick if they were not fed.

The conquering of the region by the Romans, and the later influence of the Church had much effect on the festival. We shall explore these changes in the next installment.


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