Media Helping People, Ministries Glorifying Christ
In Elizabethan times, people went door to door for food in exchange for praying for loved ones to move from purgatory to glory, the beginning of trick-or-treating.
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Samhain, forerunner of today's Halloween, was a pagan festival marking the day of the dead.
Millions of children love to get candy on Halloween every year, but should Christians let their little ones dress like ghouls and goblins?
"Peanuts" character Linus waited late Oct. 31 for the Great Pumpkin, his mixed-up combination of Santa Claus and Halloween lore.
The Rev. Kyle Huckins, Ph.D., column author; click on the photo to learn more about him.
Little boys and girls dressing up in fun costumes, families giving free candy to all comers and even a "Peanuts" TV special – with all this, how could there be a problem with Halloween?
Well, come close, dearies, and I’ll tell you a story full of warlocks and goblins, shrieks and mayhem …
Fact is, that’s the truth. The holiday has its origins at least 2,000 years ago in the Celtic festival of Samhain, which marked the beginning of fall. From sunset Oct. 31 to the sun going down Nov. 1, “it was the day of the dead, and they believed the souls of the deceased would be available," according to professor Peter Tokofsky of UCLA’s Department of World Arts and Cultures.
The Druidic priests of the Celts thought the souls of those who had died in the year since the last celebration roamed the Earth and disguises would keep these spirits entertained so the living would not be possessed. The people kept open the doors of their homes, however, so friendly beings could come in and feel comfortable.
Not only costumes but other aspects of Halloween come from these ancient people. For instance, they lit fires to ward off the spirits, and bonfires continue as a tradition to this day.
Successive cultures added the elements of today’s observance. The Romans held sway over Ireland from roughly the time of Christ to 400 A.D. They celebrated both Feralia – a day of the dead – and the feast of Pomona, whose symbol was an apple. The popular custom of bobbing for apples at Halloween may come from this.
Christians came to the land and rather than doing away with the festival, they baptized it in 835 A.D. by making Nov. 1 into All Saints Day, a commemoration of all the honored dead. Its vigil began – you guessed it – the night before.
About 150 years later, French monasteries started marking Nov. 2 as All Souls Day, which is still a time to pray for those in purgatory, where Catholics believe select dead go to pay for their sins so they can eventually get to heaven. In olden days, people would go door to door to ask for food in exchange for praying for loved ones to get to glory – the beginning of trick-or-treating.
The last is preserved in William Shakespeare’s “The Two Gentlemen of Verona,” a work in which the character Speed berates his master for whimpering “like a beggar at Hallowmas.”
The Jack O’ Lantern came along a bit later, marking the fate of a legendary Irishman called Stingy Jack. He fooled the devil into climbing a tree for an apple, then carved a cross in the trunk so the evil one couldn’t come down. To get out of the tree, Satan had to promise Jack not to come after his soul.
Jack was selfish and inebriated much of the time, so when he tried to get into heaven, God said no. Unable to go to hell due to the pact with the devil, Jack took a live coal that Satan threw at him and put it into a turnip he was eating. That coal lit his way as he wandered eternity for a place to rest. Jack later traded in the turnip for a pumpkin, a less-dangerous container for the flame.
So what does the Christian make of this? Well, it’s quite clear there’s nothing much godly about this holiday except a little medieval window-dressing. The Celts felt divination – telling of fortunes – was much sharper on the occasion, indicating occult powers were active; the Bible forbids such practices, as well as consorting with witches, the very symbol of the holiday (Deuteronomy 18:10-12).
The Rev. Matt Slick, founder of Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry, says it’s possible under Christian liberty to allow your children to dress in costume to get candy. However, that is not a universal sentiment among believers.
“If you decide to plan an alternative for your children and their friends, remember to use the Bible as your filter for what takes place at the event,” suggests Steve Russo in his “Halloween: What’s a Christian to Do?”
I support church festivals that provide wholesome alternatives to Halloween activities. Following in the footsteps of anti-Christian practices does no good spiritually. Let’s think through such events rather than automatically capitulating to culture.
About the author: The Rev. Kyle Huckins, Ph.D., has an earned doctorate and taught both journalism and religious studies in universities, winning three honors for scholarly research on the intersection of faith and media.
He's won 25 awards for professional media writing and production in a career stretching back to the 1980s and covering every mass medium. For 20 years, he's worked in public relations and marketing with outstanding results in placing articles, generating click-throughs, growing social-platform accounts, and more.
Ordained in 2003, he's clergy in the predominantly black Church of God in Christ and has served congregations and denominations in numerous positions of pastoral, administrative and educational leadership. He has a master's degree in theological studies from Liberty University Baptist Theological Seminary. See below on this page andclick here for more on Huckins.