Halloween has changed over the years, I think. When I was growing up it was pretty tame holiday with games and fun, benign costumes like bedsheet ghosts and homemade pirates.
Today it is a huge industry. Did you know that Americans spend some $9 billion (yes, with a “B”) on Halloween each year? That’s more than the total spent on the last presidential election! (Other fun facts: $575 million is spent on pumpkins and $2.5 million on candy!)
So wait. Why do we do this, again?
Halloween is kind of peculiar holiday. It is decidedly pagan (something a lot of Christians have a hard time with) and has its roots in the Celtic/Druid harvest holiday of Samhain. Celts celebrated the New Year on what we know as November 1st; the end of the harvest. The night before was a time when the veil between this world and the afterlife became very thin.
To commemorate the event, Druid priests would build large bon fires and people would burn crops and animal sacrifices to ensure a prosperous New Year. Fortunes would be told and people would light their home fires from the flames of the central bon fire which had been blessed.
When the Roman Empire conquered that part of the world around 50 CE, they imposed two Christian holidays on top of Samhain: All Saints Day (November 1st) and All Souls Day (November 2nd). The evening before All Saints Day was considered holy or “hallowed”. From this we get “Halloween” from Middle English.
Traditions around costumes, candy, parties, jack o’ lanterns and trick or treating evolved over time from different cultural influences. For example, All Souls Day was built a Roman holiday to Pomona (goddess of fruits and trees) during which children would bob for apples.
Aside from All Saints Day and All Souls Day, there is nothing at all Christian about Halloween. Why do we celebrate it, then? Well, aside from it being big business nowadays, it does honor an ancient religious tradition. Halloween is also part of our fall, cultural traditions.
But the bottom line? It’s just fun!
See you in church,