The Hijacking of Halloween

A Pumpkin

While September is the beginning of the ecclesiastical year which is marked by our commemoration of the great devotion to God and extreme ascetism of St.Simeon the Stylite, the old custom of the Celtic peoples of Britain, Ireland and northern France was to bring in the new year at the end of October, but in a much darker fashion.

According to an article by the Russian Archpriest Victor Potapov, these people believe that physical life was born from death so it was logical for them to welcome the “new year” in the fall when, as they believed, the season of cold, darkness, decay and death began. The Celts believed that a certain deity, whom they called Samhain, was the lord of death. To him they gave honor at their New Year’s festival. On the eve of the festival the priests of the Celtic cult, the Druids, instructed their people to extinguish all hearth fires and lights and they ignited one large bonfire which was believed to be sacred. It was at that bonfire that sacrifices were made to the lord of death, Samhain. They believed that their lord, pleased with the offerings, would allow the dead to return to their homes. It was this belief that brought the tradition of wondering about in the dark dressed in costumes indicating ghosts, witches and demons.

Another belief of these ancient people was that their souls, if they were pleased by the offerings presented at the bonfire, could provoke the wrath of Samhain whose angels and servants could retaliate through a system of “tricks” or curses. Thus the dialogue of “trick or treat”. All of these things are a part of the modern “innocent” version of Halloween.

There is nothing new in Church discouraging Christians from taking part in Halloween celebrations. After all, they’ve been doing it since in the early Celtic Church the Holy Fathers attempted to counteract this pagan new year festival by establishing the Feast of All Saints. While in the East this feast would fall on the Sunday after Pentecost, it was the custom of the Celts for the faithful to attend a vigil service on October 31 and a morning Divine Liturgy on November 1. Interestingly enough, it was this custom which created the term “Halloween”. The Old English of “All Hallow E’en,” i.e. the eve of the commemorating all those who were hallowed became known as Halloween.

A name that sounds Christian but has nothing to do with it.

There are alternatives to celebrating Halloween. If you are on the Old Calendar we commemorate St. Luke the Evangelist on October 31. On the other hand, if you are Protestant, well I suppose you can always commemorate the Reformation.

14 thoughts on “The Hijacking of Halloween

  1. I vividly recall, many years ago when I was doing my graduate work at Duquesne University the ONLY place on the whole campus that was decorated for halloween (with all the “spooky” stuff) was the residence of the Priests and Brothers of the Holy Spirit (the Spiritans). For those that don’t know Duquesne is a private Roman Catholic university. I’m sure the tradition continues….LOL

  2. Years ago, as an Episcopalian in a small neighborhood parish, we used to celebrate Hallowe’en for our children’s sake, keeping them at the church by a party, rather than letting them go out and risk danger by trick-or-treating. We tried to tie it into All Saints’ day, and even had a compline service before the party. Those were simpler times.

    Later, as a Greek Orthodox, we let our boys go out on Hallowe’en because all their friends did, but one year my wife (influenced by the anti-satanic mania that motivates the Trinity Broadcasting Network) insisted that our boys give up Hallowe’en, since she believed that satanists were sacrificing babies in the wilds of America on this day. Yeauchh! Oh well, to preserve the peace, I caved in, and to turn thoughts in a better direction, I suggested we go out on that night, have dinner at the mall, and then take in a good (non-Hallowe’en themed) movie. I crafted a large (about 3 foot tall) 3-bar Orthodox cross of rough, unfinished fence plank, screwed it to the front screen door, and we went out together. That was our regimen till the boys were too old to go trick-or-treating. They thought their mom was a fanatic, but like me, did not want to cross her. As adults, they now do as they please. None of them has become a satanist.

    I posted just now about a different autumn festival that I’ve thought about for many years, but it’s just musings. Nothing has come or ever will come from the idea, but I still like it.

    http://cost-of-discipleship.blogspot.com/2009/10/different-autumn-festival.html

    Anyway, thanks, Fr Milovan, for bringing up the subject, and thanks, Popadija Tatiana, for the link to the Muslim info site. Before Islam came here, I knew Jews who had similar ploys to deflect Hallowe’en from their kids’ attention.

  3. Why even participate at all? The message will be lost on them and their parents. I think to give any attention to it like that simply validates it.

    Here in the States, people decorate their entire yards in cobwebs, put up plastic tombstones and skeletons in their yards, along with jack-o-lanterns on their porches to greet any guests. In recent years they’ve added orange and black “christmas” lights and blow up lawn ornaments (6 feet tall or so) of horror scenes. The gorier the better. Some go as far to add dry ice for a smoky effect. It’s disgusting. And not limited to houses either. Most businesses, schools and even some churches decorate in similar fashion. Steve, rejoice and be glad it hasn’t spread to your country!

  4. Where I live we have no tradition of Hallowe’en, even in secular society. We have no kids going arund in fancy dress saying “Trick ot treat”, and if they did, people would think they were mad.

    But if they did, I like the suggestion that someone made, that I quoted in my blog post on the topic — set up some ikons, invite them to light a candle, and give them an ikon card with their “treat”.

  5. I’m with Leah! And that is very interesting re: bonfires. My maiden name is Kostur, which means skeleton in Serbian. But is very close to the Russian word for bonfire: костер

  6. Every other Pagan festival we have made our own as Christians – why not this one? I think it was an attempt by Pope Gregory III to do just that, except stuff didn’t change so much, the Western Church sort of absorbed it and hoped changing the date would fix the issue…
    One interesting piece of trivia on bonfires: the word “bonfire” is a contraction of the words bone fire because the bones of the sacrifices would be piled up and set on fire for an ultimate sort of celebration of Samhain (pronounced Sow-in) for those who don’t know. Those wacky Celt pagans don’t they know the best use for a big fire is BBQ???

  7. I don’t really understand Steve’s perspective. Although we use the modern term Halloween, the Wiccans and other pagans, may choose to call Oct. 31 (in the west. hemisphere) by a different name. This does not negate the fact that they consider it the holiest day of their year, a day dedicated to worshipping various spirits, and Lucifer himself.

    Halloween is the glorification of death and darkness. People in the West are so detached from death that they simply mock it, disrespecting both God and the reposed.

    Steve, all of the imagery and even phrases associated with Halloween are from satanic phrases and books. This is not harmless fun. Even if one does not realize what they are saying, I still believe this falls under the category of “sins committed unknowingly”… but now you know….

    You should see what the Muslims teach their kids about today. Why are they, so better prepared to defend their false-faith? we have the TRUTH and we compromise it at every turn. Check this out: http://www.soundvision.com/Info/misc/hollo/13tips.asp

  8. Steve > Thank you for your comment. The only thing we seem to agree on is that Halloween has no place in the Christian tradition.

    You make some very good points in your post and seemingly refute my – and many others – opinion that Halloween has been hijacked or stolen by the pagans.

    Also, I found this you had fascinating:

    http://southern-orthodoxy.blogspot.com/2006/10/halloween-shape-shifting-samhain.html

    Once again, Steve’s post can be found here.

  9. Father bless!

    The real origins of Hallowe’en have been obscured by a lot of fluff journalists who are told by their editors to write something about it, do some extremely shallow research (usually reading previously-published articles on the topic written in similar circumstances), and pass this off on an unsuspecting public.

    It doesn’t affect Orthodox much, because our Hallowe’en is the Saturday after Pentecost.

    But I’ve posted what I believe is a more accurate account of its origins at Who stole Halloween? Khanya

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