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Where Did Halloween Come From?

Where did Halloween come from? Is it a holiday that's okay for Christians to celebrate?

Here's the answer to this inquiring question:

Most people know that Halloween takes place on October 31. Far fewer understand the connection between Halloween and the next day of the calendar, the festival of All Hallow' or All Saints' Day, celebrated by some churches and denominations November 1. Oddly enough, history shows that Halloween—this ancient, thoroughly pagan holiday with its trappings of death and demonism—is inseparably tied to All Saints' Day.

Pagan festivals have had a curious way of worming their way into Christianity over the centuries. The Encyclopedia of Religion explains that "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 ancient Celtic name for the festival that we call Halloween]. 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).

How did this strange turn of events come about? How did the Catholic Church transform an ancient pagan festival into one supposedly honoring dead saints?

The 1913 edition of The Catholic Encyclopedia says 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 fourth century, neighboring dioceses began to interchange feasts, to transfer relics, to divide them, and to join in a common feast. Frequently groups of martyrs suffered on the same day, which naturally led to a joint commemoration."

"In the persecution of [Roman Emperor] 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. [Eventually] Gregory III (731-741) consecrated a chapel in the basilica of St. Peter to all the saints and fixed the anniversary for 1 November" (Vol. 1, p. 315).

Pope Gregory's choice of November 1 for this celebration wasn't random. He chose that date for a specific reason. 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. This religious masquerade resembled the pagan custom of parading ghosts to the town limits. 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 November 2. Eventually these two holidays merged into the present observance on November 1, which was also called All Hallows' Day. The name of All Hallows' Even (evening) for the night of October 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 Him.

He clearly states in Deuteronomy 12:30-32:

"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."

Some argue that they are not using Halloween to honor God now but to just have non-religious fun. But God wants His people to completely remove from their lives anything derived from pagan religion (see verses 2-3).

This is a brief explanation of the origins of the holiday and why Christians should have nothing to do with it. There's a lot more to say. You can learn more from our free study guide Holidays or Holy Days: Does it Matter Which Days We Observe? Available at www.GNmagazine.org/booklets.

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