Christianity and the History of Halloween


In the Autumn of the year, final crops of corn and gourds such as pumpkins, squash, and melons are being gathered. The daylight is dimming and the world seems to be dying as it grows cold and dim in preparation for winter. Little wonder, then, that Autumn has been the traditional time of year for many cultures to honor the dead.

In the Buddhist communities of Japan, Obon is a traditional celebration of the dead during which communities return to their ancestral home, visiting and restoring their family graves. Japanese tradition holds that, at this time of year, ancestral spirits rise and visit the family shrines.

The Hindus celebrate Pitru Paksha on a lunar calendar, beginning at the full moon and ending at the new moon (September through October). At this time of year, Hindu legend indicates that the souls of the previous generation of ancestors ascend to heaven to unite with God, whilst the most recent generation of the dead rise to replace them in the realm between heaven and earth. The celebration includes a number of food offerings given in honor of the ancestors.

A surprising number of pagan cultures also tend to observe a celebration of the dead - sometimes lasting up to three days – at the end of October. This includes the Peruvians, the Pacific Islanders, the people of the Tonga Islands, the ancient Persians, the ancient Egyptians, ancient Romans, and the northern nations of Europe.

In the ancient Celtic cultures, feasts were held at this time of year, to which the spirits of the dead were beckoned to join. Bonfires were lit to ward off harmful fairies and ill-tempered spirits.

As the pagan Roman cultures began to succumb to Christian influences, these celebrations of the dead began to take on a more austere aspect. The Catholic celebration of Hallowmas includes All Hallows Eve on October 31st, from which the name Halloween is derived; All Hallows Day on November 1st; and All Souls Day on November 2nd. Although some church historians will deny that these are a Christianization of the pagan days of the dead, it seems more than likely.

In recent history, although it has kept its Christian name, Halloween draws more upon its pagan roots as people happily dress as monsters and spirits to be appeased with gifts of candy.

The church was possibly well-intentioned in its conversion of various pagan holidays to more pious notions, thus giving the pagan culture holier things to celebrate, however it is important to note that such celebrations have no biblical roots and have no place in protestant theology.

While many well-intentioned Christians intentionally avoid the festivities associated with Halloween, deeming them inappropriate, harmless fun is not discouraged by scripture. It is the motivation behind the activities which is important. In the words of the apostle Paul:

“As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions …One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God. For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord's. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.”