This is the first Sunday of October. We are quickly approaching the holiday season which has cause to teach on Halloween from a biblical perspective. Most people don’t know much about Halloween other than what is seen: children going around the neighborhood dressed in costume asking for candy or treats. Adults going to Halloween parties dressed in costume and participating in Halloween games like bobbing for apples. Decorating houses with Halloween decorations like the jack-o-lanterns, witches, black cats, ghosts, spiders and webs, etc. So, it would be best to start today by looking at the historical origin of Halloween.
Halloween has ancient roots in history. Most of the traditions that we see celebrated on Halloween go way back in time. First of all, Halloween is not the original name of the holiday. The original name of the holiday is: Samhain – pronounced (sow-in). Samhain is an ancient Celtic festival. The Celts lived 2,000 years ago in what is now Ireland, the UK, and northern France. The Celts celebrated their new year on November 1st. This day marked the end of summer and the harvest and the beginning of the dark, cold winter – a time in which many people of that time period often died. Celts believed that on the day before the new year, the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead became blurred and thin. On the night of October 31, the Celts celebrated Samhain, when it was believed that the ghosts of the dead returned to earth. The Celts feared trouble that these spirits could bring to their crops and livestock but they also believed that the presence of the otherworldly spirits made it easier for the Druids, or Celtic priests to make predictions about the future. For a people entirely dependent on the volatile natural world, these prophecies were a source of comfort during a long, dark winter. The Celts would offer these spirits food, drink, or portions of their crops to appease them. The Celts believed that during this time the spirits of the dead revisited their homes seeking hospitality, so they sat places at the table to welcome them.
During Samhain, the Druids built huge bonfires where the people gathered to burn crops and animals as sacrifices. During the festival, the Celts wore costumes, usually animal heads and skins and attempted to tell each other’s fortunes. Even with the coming of Christianity to Europe, these traditions continued. Throughout Ireland and Britain, household festivities on October 31st included games to foretell the future. Apples and nuts were often used in these divination rituals. Fortune telling regarding marriage was huge. Apple bobbing was one of these rituals. Single adults bobbed for apples and then peeled the skin and threw the skin over the shoulder onto the floor. The peel was believed to land in the shape of the future spouse’s first name. Upon the arrival of Christianity in Europe, the name of the holiday did change. On May 13, 609 AD, Pope Boniface IV established the Catholic feast of All Martyrs Day in the Western Church. Pope Gregory III later expanded the festival to include all saints as well as martyrs, and established the festival on November 1st. It is believed that the Catholic church was trying to replace or change the Celtic holiday. When Christianity spread to Celtic lands, it blended with older Celtic rites. The Catholic church created another holiday, All Souls’ Day, a day to honor the dead which was held on November 2. These creation of these church holidays gave Halloween its name. Since Samhain was held the night before these festivals began, October 31st became known as All Hallows Eve and eventually, Halloween.
Another ritual became associated with Halloween in Ireland, Scotland, and Wales; guising. Guising (pollution of disguising) involved people going house to house in costume. People impersonated the souls of the dead and received offerings of food on their behalf. It was also believed that disguising was a way to protect yourself from spirits. After the advent of All Souls Day, the Catholic church encouraged poor citizens to go to homes for soul cakes given to them in return for them praying for the preparers dead relatives. Soon, children picked up this ritual. This ritual was called “souling”. Often guisers on All Hallows Eve carried a hollowed out turnip, carved with a gruesome face with a candle inside. This was believed to frighten evil spirits. After Halloween became popular in North America, the ritual included a pumpkin which is softer, easier to carve, and is associated with harvest time. What do we call these lanterns?
The celebration of Halloween was extremely limited in America for many, many years due to the strength of biblical beliefs. In the second half of the 19th century, America was flooded with millions of Irish fleeing the Potato Famine and Halloween began to experience a new birth in America. Between 1920 and 1930, Halloween became a part of American culture. Today, Americans spend an estimated $6 billion annually on Halloween, making it the country’s second largest commercial holiday after Christmas.
1 CORINTHIANS 10:19-22
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