The name “Halloween’ comes from the all Saints Day Celebration of the early church, a day set aside for the solemn remembrance of the martyrs. All Halloween Eve, the evening before “All Saints Day” began the time of remembrance. All “All Hallows Eve” was eventually contracted to Halloween.
As the church moved through Europe it collided with pagan cultures and confronted established customs. Pages holidays and festivals were so entrenched that new converts found them to be stumbling blocks to their faith. To deal with the problem, the organized church would commonly move a distinctively church holiday to a spot on the colander that would directly challenge a pagan holiday.
To invent a counter pagan influences and provide a alternative. But most of the church only succeeded in “Christianizing” a pagan ritual-the ritual was still pagan, but mixed with Christian symbolism. That’s what happened to All Saints Eve-it was the original Halloween alternative.
The Celtic people of Europe and Britain were pagan Druids whose major celebrations were marked by the seasons. At the end of the year in Northern Europe, people made preparations to ensure winter survival by harvesting the crops and culling the herds, slaughtering animals that wouldn’t make make it. Life slowed down as winter brought darkness fallow ground and death. The imagery of death, symbolized skulls, and the color back, remains in today’s Halloween celebrations.
The pagan Samhain festival (pronounced “sow” “en”) celebrated the final harvest, death, and the onset of winter, for three days-October 31 to November 2. The celts believed the curtain divided the living and the dead to walk among the living-ghosts haunting the earth.
Some embraced the season of haunting by engaging in occult practices such as divination and communications with the dead. They sought divine spirits (demons) and the spirits of their ancestors regarding weather forecasts for the coming year, crop expectations. And even romantic prospects. Bobbing for apples was one practice the pagans used to divine the spiritual world’s “blessings” on a couple’s romance.
For others the focus on death, occultism, divination, and thought of spirits returning to haunt the living, fueled ignorant superstitions and fears. They believed spirits were earthbound until the received a proper send off with treats, possessions, wrath, food, and drink. Spirits who were not suitably treated would trick those who had neglected them. The fear of haunting only multiple if that spirit had been offended during its lifetime.
Trick-bent spirits were believed to assume grotesque appearances. Some traditions developed, which believed wearing a costume to look like a spirit would fool the wondering spirits. Others believed the spirits could be warded off by carving a grotesque face into a gourd or root vegetable and setting a candle inside it-the jack-o-lantern.
Into the dark, superstitious, pagan world, God mercifully shined the light of the gospel. Newly converted Christian armed themselves with the truth and no longer fears a haunting from departed spirits returning to earth. In fact, they denounced their former pagan spiritism in accord with Deuteronomy 18:
There shall not be found among you anyone… who used divination, one who practices witchcraft, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, or one who casts a spell, or a medium, or a spirit it’s, or one who calls up the dead. For whoever does these things is detestable to the Lord. (Deuteronomy 18: 10-13)
Nonetheless, Christian concerts found family and cultural influence hard to withstand; they were tempted to rejoin the pagan festivals, especially Samhain. Pope Gregory IV reacted to the pagan challenge by moving the celebration of All Saints Day in the ninth century-he set the date at November 1, right in the middle of Samhain.
As the centuries passed, Samhain and All Hallows Eve mixed together. On the one hand, pagan superstitions gave way to “Christianized” superstitions and provided more fodder for fear. People began to understand that the pagan ancestral spirits were demons and the diviners were practicing witchcraft and necromancy. On the other hand, the festival time provided greater opportunity for revelry. Trick-or-treat became a time when roving bands of young hooligans would go house to house gathering food and drinks for their parties. Stingy household ran the risks of a trick being played on the property from drunk young people.
Halloween didn’t become an American holiday until the immigration of the working class from British Isles in the late nineteenth century. While early Immigrants may have believed the superstitious traditions. It was the mischievous aspects of the holiday that Attracted American young people. Younger generations borrowed of adopted many customs without reference to their pagan origins.