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UCGia Bible Insights Thursday, October 26 2023

Halloween: Behind the mask

Halloween is undoubtedly one of the strangest holidays people celebrate, with its symbolism of witches, devils, skeletons, bats, black cats, and children dressed up as ghosts and monsters going from house to house demanding "trick or treat!"

History shows that behind the dark mask of this popular holiday reside the terrors of an ancient Celtic festival renamed All Hallows Eve, which marked the time when the dead supposedly rose from their graves to walk the earth. The Encyclopedia of Religion, under the heading "Halloween," links Halloween to the eve of Samhain, "a celebration marking the beginning of winter as well as the first day of the New Year within the ancient Celtic culture of the British Isles.” (1987, p. 176).

Samhain was thought to be a time when the barriers between the human and supernatural worlds were broken, allowing passage between the two. "Other worldly entities, such as the souls of the dead, were able to visit earthly inhabitants, and humans could take the opportunity to penetrate the domains of the gods and supernatural creatures. Fiery tributes and sacrifices of animals, crops, and possibly human beings were made to appease supernatural powers that controlled the fertility of the land." (ibid., p. 177). Centuries later, Irish and Scottish immigrants brought the custom of Halloween with them to the New World, and it eventually became a national event.

Halloween is anything but harmless. It focuses attention on witchcraft and demonism, and God's Word makes it clear no one should entertain witchcraft or act as a sorcerer. (Deuteronomy 18:10-11) Also few are aware of 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). The Encyclopedia of Religion explains "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 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).

The 1913 edition of The Catholic Encyclopedia notes 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 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… and fixed the anniversary for 1 November" (Vol. 1, p. 315).

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…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: "...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." (Deuteronomy 12:30-32).

  • Source:

    The Good News Magazine (Sep-Oct 2005)