Is it true that Halloween is a holiday rooted in pagan cult traditions? It appears that just the opposite is the case – that it began as a Christian celebration.
In an article by Father Augustine Thompson, he points out that “The origins of Halloween are, in fact, very Christian and rather American. Halloween falls on October 31 because of a pope, and its observances are the result of medieval Catholic piety.
“It’s true that the ancient Celts of Ireland and Britain celebrated a minor festival on October 31–as they did on the last day of most other months of the year. However, Halloween falls on the last day of October because the Solemnity of All Saints, or ‘All Hallows,’ falls on November 1. The feast in honor of all the saints in heaven used to be celebrated on May 13, but Pope Gregory III (d. 741) moved it to November 1, the dedication day of All Saints Chapel in St. Peter’s at Rome. Later, in the 840s, Pope Gregory IV commanded that All Saints be observed everywhere. And so the holy day spread to Ireland.
“The day before was the feast’s evening vigil, ‘All Hallows Even,’ or ‘Hallowe’en.’ In those days Halloween didn’t have any special significance for Christians or for long-dead Celtic pagans.”
Father Thompson notes that a French abbot began to encourage a day to pray for the souls of the faithful departed, which became All Souls Day on November 2. The Irish, not wanting their friends and family who had gone to hell to be forgotten, began a tradition of banging pots and pans on All Hallows Eve, in order to help those in eternal punishment know they had not been forgotten.
Various French, Irish and English traditions relating to All Hallows Eve – including the wearing of costumes and the practice of demanding treats – came to America with immigrants and began to be intermingled.
“But what about witches?” asks Father Thompson. “Well, they are one of the last additions. The greeting card industry added them in the late 1800s. Halloween was already “ghoulish,” so why not give witches a place on greeting cards? The Halloween card failed (although it has seen a recent resurgence in popularity), but the witches stayed.
“So too, in the late 1800s, ill-informed folklorists introduced the jack-o’-lantern. They thought that Halloween was Druidic and pagan in origin. Lamps made from turnips (not pumpkins) had been part of ancient Celtic harvest festivals, so they were translated to the American Halloween celebration.”
While modern-day pagans may have claimed this holiday as their own, the reality is that it is deeply rooted in various Christian traditions that came to America.
You can read the full article on ucatholic.com.
Michael Duduit is founding Dean of the College of Christian Studies and the Clamp Divinity School at Anderson University. He also serves as Professor of Christian Ministry. He is the founder and still serves as Executive Editor of Preaching magazine, one of the nation’s premier publications for pastors. His email newsletter, Preaching Now, is read each week by more than 40,000 pastors and church leaders in the U.S. and around the world. He is founder and director of the National Conference on Preaching and the International Congress on Preaching. He has been a pastor and associate pastor, has served a number of churches as interim pastor, and speaks regularly for churches, colleges and conferences. He is author and editor of several books, including the Handbook of Contemporary Preaching, Joy in Ministry: Messages from Second Corinthians, Preaching with Power: Dynamic Insights from Twenty Top Communicators and Communicate With Power.