The History of Halloween
By: Dr. James D. McAfee
It may come as quite a surprise to discover that this celebration predates the Christian Church by several centuries. In fact, it goes back to a practice of the ancient Druids in Britain, France, Germany, and the Celtic countries, who lived centuries before Christ was born. This celebration honored one of their deities (gods) Samhain, the Lord of the Dead. Samhain called together all the wicked souls who had died within the past twelve months and had been condemned to inhabit the bodies of animals. In Celtic Belief, the souls were incarnated as animals until they had expiated (atoned for) their own sins. Fire rites and sacrifices were offered to this dreaded god. Human victims, usually criminals, or captives taken especially for this rite, were enclosed in thatch or wicker cages in the shape of animals or monsters and roasted alive in the Samhain bonefire sacrifices (this bonefire eventually became bonfire).
The date for this celebration was the last day of October, the eve of the Celtic New Year. It was a time of falling leaves and general seasonal decay, and it seemed the appropriate time to celebrate death. That’s what this was—a celebration of death. It honored the god of the dead and the wicked spirits of the dead. The druids believed that on this particular night the souls of the dead returned to their former homes to be entertained by the living. If acceptable food and shelter were not provided these evil spirits would cast spells, cause havoc and terror, and haunt and torment the living. They demanded to be placated. LOOK CLOSELY, here is the beginning of “Trick or Treat”. Evil spirits demanding a “Treat”, if they didn’t get it you got a “Trick”.
The custom of living sacrifices on Halloween continued into the Middle Ages, with human victims being replaced by black cats due to their longstanding association with witchcraft.
But how did all this become associated with Christianity? Part of the story goes back to Rome. The Roman Pantheon was built about 100 A. D. as a temple to the goddess Cybele and various other Roman deities. It became the principal place of worship where Roman pagans prayed for their dead. After Rome was sacked, the Pantheon fell into disrepair. In 607 it was recaptured and turned over to Pope Boniface IV. Boniface consecrated it once again to the Virgin Mary. This was part of the general policy, wherever pagan celebrations were well established, they would be continued and incorporated into Christian worship. (See Ex. 34:12-14, Duet. 12:2-3, 29-32)
For two centuries the major celebration in the Pantheon took place in May and was called “All Saints Day”, in 834 A.D. it was deliberately moved to the first of November! Why? To coincide with those pagan practices that had been going on for centuries. The Catholic Church wanted to accommodate the recently conquered German Saxons and the Norsemen of Scandinavia, thus it incorporated yet another celebration. That’s the wedding of All Saints Day to Halloween. Thoroughly, utterly, totally pagan; the worship of the dead, the placating of evil spirits, the honoring of the Lord of the Dead, the transferring to Mary the pagan esteem that was previously given to Cybele.
The Jack-O-Lantern began as a hollowed out turnip or potato in Ireland and Scotland. The name derived from that for a night watchman or a Will-O-The–Wisp of the marshes, which is a false light that leads travelers astray. The Native American pumpkin was soon substituted for the turnip in the United States. This hollowed out pumpkin, carved into a demonic face and mocking grin suggest the throngs of hobgoblins that roam the dark on Halloween.
The Halloween masquerade has been traced to the festival of the dead. Although the souls of the departed were welcomed home with a light in the window and offerings of food, (trick or treat) their visit was an uneasy one for the living and they were not encouraged to stay. When it was time for them to leave the villagers, in costume, formed a procession to escort them out of town. The masquerade was presumably a way of inviting the guests to depart without offending them, but it also served to disguise the identities of the escort and protect them from supernatural visitants. Some masks were of saints but most celebrants costumed as ghosts, skeletons, demons, and witches.
Apples and nuts figured in divination customs of Halloween. The game of bobbing for apples was originally a form of augury (fortune telling) in which apples and a sixpence were immersed in a tub of water and the success in capturing one in the mouth meant a prosperous year to come. Nuts roasting in the fire prophesied the fidelity of lovers when they burned side by side, but if one of them burst or fell in the ashes the love would not endure.
Deut 18:10-14, Lev. 20: 6,27, Gal. 5: 19-21
This is only an abbreviated history of this demonic origin of Halloween. As a Christian, it is a celebration that needs be left alone. In the United States, the season of Halloween has become the second most productive in commercial sales, coming in second only to the Christmas Season. It has totally supplanted the season of Thanksgiving and in most towns it is difficult to find decorations suitable for Thanksgiving, a holiday dedicated to giving thanks to God for the manifold blessings we have received.
Source of information: The Encyclopedia Britannica and the Britannica Library Research Service. Various other Historical Books on Halloween. This information was compiled and edited by Dr. & Mrs. Jim McAfee, 420 Ash Dr. Baxter, TN 38544. firstname.lastname@example.org
Also look on the internet for Halloween-Christian perspective.