Does Halloween have Christian roots? The answer is, “No,” but it does have Christianity “grafted into it.” What we know as Halloween was originally celebrated before Christ was even born! It goes back to the Celtic calendar in which the Celtic Tribes divided the year into the Dark Half (winter) and the Light Half (summer). November 1st was recognized as the beginning of the New Year. The celebration culminated the night before (October 31st) with a Druid feast called Samhain. They would build and light a bonfire that they kept lit all winter in an effort to bring back the summer. They also offer up sacrifices which even escalated into human sacrifices.
It was during Samhain that it was believed that the veil between this world and the world beyond was breached resulting in widespread fear and chaos. It was believed that demons, witches, hobgoblins, and elves were released in mass to reap havoc on the living. To avoid them, Druids would dress up as witches, devils, and ghouls, and would even involve themselves in demonic activities to make themselves immune from attack. They also believed that it was possible for them to accidentally step into and get lost in the afterworld.
The Christian “Makeover”
Halloween as we know it, probably wouldn’t be around today if the Church had not tried to “Christianize” it. As Christianity spread across Europe it re-imagined pagan folkways rather than trying to stomp them out. This made it easier to convert pagans.
The Church under Pope Gregory the Great issued an edict to all his missionaries in 601 A.D. that instead of changing pagan worship, they were to “transform” it into Christian worship. (i.e. rather than telling pagans not to worship a tree, tell them to worship the tree as a “Christian” tree.)
This resulted in moving the Holy Day of, “All Hallows Day,” or, “All Saints Day,” from May 13th to November 1st in an effort to offer the people an alternative as well as an opportunity to celebrate and pray for the saints who have gone on before them. The Protestants have since used the day to celebrate anyone who has died in the faith.
The old vestiges of Samhain never really went away and the night before All Hallows Day people still observed a lot of the same practices. What a lot of people don’t realize is that the word, Halloween or Hallowe’en is a contraction of All Hallows’ Eve.
Should the Christian Celebrate Halloween?
Halloween has since developed a life of it’s own. It is constantly evolving. I believe Halloween is one of those “Grey Areas,” for the Christian.
I am often deeply offended by the dark nature of Halloween. There is no denying that Halloween has become a high day for the occult and it is a dangerous thing to dabble in such things. As a result, I try to distance myself from the holiday.
My position…I don’t celebrate it. Yet, at the same time, I don’t push strongly against it.
A lot of churches offer Christian Alternatives to Halloween such as Fall Festivals which can be a great alternative. Some choose to observe October 31st as Reformation Day celebrating Martin Luther nailing his 95 Thesis against the Catholic Church on the Wittenberg door on October 31, 1517.
In his article, “Is Halloween Really Satan’s Birthday,” Greg Stier gives some great advice on dealing with Halloween:
1. Don’t be a Legalist
2. Use it as an opportunity to engage others for the Gospel
3. Give lots of Candy to Neighborhood Kids.
There are literally TONS of material on the subject. Some other Resources with a wide variety of views:
Halloween For Christians: Oppression or Opportunity by Hank Hanegraaff
Chuck Thomas’ Reformation Day