Halloween and All Saints have deep religious layers, each incorporated as a new culture emerged.
Colonists brought variations of the celebration to America, but Halloween became popular in the 1800s when large numbers of Irish and Scots immigrated to the United States.
The oldest primary root of Halloween is the Celtic festival honoring Samhain, the Celtic lord of death. This marked the beginning of winter, the season of cold, darkness and decay. The Celts believed that Samhain allowed dead souls to return home on the evening of the last day of their year: October 31st. Bonfires and costumes can be traced back to this celebration.
The Romans conquered the Celts in AD 43. People combined two Roman fall festivals with Samhain. The Romans marked Feralia at the end of October, which brought another emphasis on the dead. The second festival honored Pomona, the Roman goddess of fruit and trees. Apples became a tradition at this time.
As Christianity grew, pagan holiday customs were incorporated into its celebration of All Saints’ Day. Hallows comes from the Old English “haligor”, a man or saint. It was often pronounced All Hallow E’en.
In 834, All Saints’ Day, which honors all Christian saints, especially those who had no feast day, was moved from spring to November 1.
The fourth main layer of Halloween comes from the Middle Ages. People believed that the devil and his followers would come out the night before to mock All Saints’ Day and perform unholy acts.
With this historical knowledge, some choose not to let children participate in the October festivities. He feels the pagan and witchcraft connections are too strong.
And despite its religious roots, many Christians question whether they should celebrate Halloween, as seen in Focus on the Family (www.focusonthefamily.com/parenting/should-christians-celebrate-halloween/).
The Focus on the Family website said, “Dressing up and handing out candy on October 31 is not a sin.” He goes on to say that Christians should remember that they represent Jesus, so their dress and behavior should show that.
For example, some churches encourage members to draw on All Saints Day and dress up as a saint.
Regardless of how you choose to participate, or not, take a moment on October 31st and remember how far the party’s roots go.
Sources: Dictionary of Christianity, JC Cooper; World Book; The HarperCollins Dictionary of Religion, Jonathon Z. Smith, editor; Religions of the World, John Bowker