It is that time again, already. Can you believe it?
Halloween or Hallowe’en (a contraction of “All Hallows’ Evening”), also known as All Hallows’ Eve. Some even call it Hallowmas or the triduum of All Saints.
The practice is said to derive from the Celts or Gaelics. Evidence suggests that the practice goes far back into the early centuries after Christ, although these early practices didn’t pop up out of nowhere. There are many similarities of rituals the pagans of old once did prior to (and even after) settling in the Western world. Halloween has evolved over the years across the globe, taking on different customs and symbology. However, the core practices remain to this day.
America began celebrating Halloween only recently when the Irish and Scottish became more prevalent in the 19th century. Prior to then it was heavily opposed by the Puritans, as were Christmas and Easter. All had been recognized in Europe for many years. Thus, it was not customary to acknowledge these traditions as the Puritans felt them to be contrary to the Bible.
Examining Halloween Customs
Let’s take a look at some of the main customs of Halloween and their origins. The information we have is from several early sources via literature of antiquity and/or historians.
Early literature states that it was thought if one were to disguise themselves with sheets and/or masks, then they could not be possessed or harmed by the evil spirits that passed through with their dead relatives (whom they asked to attend by conjuring). Essentially, costumes and masks were made that reflected the evil spirits, and it was believed that if they wore the ugly masks disguising their human form, they would be left alone by the demons.
At night it was particularly important to disguise one’s self as the spirits were thought to roam only in darkness. In some countries, it is believed to this day the spirits pass through this time of year without being conjured or summoned. Halloween has also been given the name “Festival of the Dead”. Obviously the festival would and does include divination and conjuring.
Additionally, it is recorded as early as the 18th century that pranks would be played on unsuspecting people to scare them, which eventually became the custom of England. We unfortunately see this in our Halloween custom today.
Initially, the festival didn’t involve candy. Instead, offerings of food, oil, money, and other wares were offered to people of the village feasts and spirits depicted for the occasion. People would go door-to-door collecting the goods. At night many would leave treats at the front of their door or home in order to appease the “wee folk” (fairies) to discourage them from doing mischief or causing them harm. These fairies did not look like Tinkerbell. They were thought to be small, ugly demons or humanoids that would wreak havoc.
This was customary in the feasts going as far back as its origin. As we can see, or have experienced ourselves, it has not changed much today.
Two of the four main Gaelic feasts held bonfires that acted as bookends to the harvests. One was held before the Summer harvest (April 30-May 1st) which was called Beltane. The other occurred at the end of Summer harvest (Oct 31-Nov 1), which became known as Samhain. The latter was integrated into the Hallows’ Eve festival, which is why the bonfire became symbolic for this celebration.
The bonfire was very traditional for various reasons and practices according to sources. Fire was used symbolically to protect people from harm, in both the supernatural and natural world. Typically several bonfires were lit, either on hill tops or elsewhere. It is thought that they were originally used as a sacrificial fire to appease the gods who would protect and bless their harvests. However, there are several sources and literature that do not mention human sacrifice after the Middle Ages.
In the colder regions of Scotland, these large bonfires were used to burn the bones of the cattle which they slaughtered after the first freeze so that they’d have food for the Winter (which they still do today). This also falls on October 31st-Nov 1st.
The practice of placing stones around a fire has been done for centuries, especially during Halloween celebrations. In earlier times, it was done as a ritual with chanting, songs, and prayers to the “spirits” who they thought were their fore-bearers. You can see this practice throughout cultures around the world today.
Apples were a common food at the Hallows’ Eve festival, specifically for the single people. The apple represented fertility according to the Romans, and it is said that this is where the Celts got the idea. One custom was to peel an apple, throw the peel over the shoulder, then examine it to see if it formed a letter, which was thought to be the first letter of a future spouse. Another custom was apple ducking or bobbing. The first person who was able to bite the apple under the water would be the first person to marry.
An interesting fact: If you cut an apple in half width wise, the core looks like a 5-pointed star or pentagram. It is said that Wiccans use this symbol to represent fertility. Hence, the pentagram with a circle around it.
Initially turnips were carved, not pumpkins, and were sometimes used as a mask. But, in many areas where Celts settled, large squash would grow at the end of Summer and were used in place of turnips. Some would set the hollowed turnips or pumpkins in front of their homes. A candle was placed inside as it was thought that fire would keep away bad spirits.
The Warning About Halloween
Many of these customs were altered to reflect the Christianization of the West. This is when it became known as Halloween rather than All Hallows’ Evening. In Catholicism, the festival became known as “All Saint’s Day”. Later in America, the costumes began reflecting our idols in addition to scary demons. And more recently, we’ve seen churches open their doors for parents who feel at least some hesitation. However, we must ask ourselves…would our Elohim approve?
Some may balk at the idea of taking away a child’s favorite celebration. We must ask ourselves why it has become one of, if not the favorite custom we’ve conjured up (no pun intended). The answer is quite simply the candy. Most assuredly this is the main attraction. Not to mention the fun we have dressing up as one of our favorite characters. The parties…the celebrations…it’s all in good fun, right? As I’ve said before, is it not curious why all these man-made customs always involve candy?
This may be a no-brainer for some, but would Jesus practice such a thing?
The obvious answer would be no. I don’t believe I’m going out on a limb to say that He would stay away from such a thing. His Father warned about it. He warned His children to avoid things of this nature. Regardless of whether we are in the land of Israel or not, we are grafted into His people. Thus, we must heed the warnings He has given to His chosen ones. More importantly, we need to start acting like His children. Even if we were to change the celebration to dress up in some character from the Bible, we are still recognizing and celebrating it. We are still recognizing the day whether we dress up as Harry Potter or Moses.
I’m not going to pretend that it won’t be hard if you have younger children. Our young one still doesn’t fully understand, especially when she sees the neighbor dressed up in a princess costume. Every time the door bell rings it’s just another reminder of what she’s not doing, and I understand. But, celebrating Halloween at a church dressed in costume isn’t going to get that point across either and just confuses the issue.
Options for Parents
We don’t have the answers for each individual or family. This decision is something between you and your Father. But, what we can say from experience that it will get easier. The understanding will come through teaching His word to our children. It’s not something that should only be discussed immediately prior to Halloween, but the days before and after as well. Pray before you talk to them. Pray while you talk to them. He will help you through those tough parenting times, especially if you’re being obedient to His word. Don’t lose hope or be afraid of the reactions you may face.
There are other places to go and other things to do that do not involve an inundation of candy, witches, ghosts, demons, or the like. Sure, there will still be people dressed up in costumes pretty much everywhere you go. But, you’re not the only one out there not participating. There are many families and individuals who refuse to acknowledge All Hallows’ Evening. You can search your area for families or groups. They are out there.
In case you’re not sure what the Bible says about these situations, here are a few reasons why we should be careful, even in what may seem to be harmless celebrations:
Deuteronomy 18:9-14 (ESV)
9 “When you come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you,you shall not learn to follow the abominable practices of those nations.10 There shall not be found among you anyone who burns his son or his daughter as an offering, anyone who practices divination or tells fortunes or interprets omens, or a sorcerer 11 or a charmer or a medium or a necromancer or one who inquires of the dead, 12 for whoever does these things is an abomination to the Lord. And because of these abominations the Lord your God is driving them out before you. 13 You shall be blameless before the Lord your God, 14 for these nations, which you are about to dispossess, listen to fortune-tellers and to diviners. But as for you, the Lord your God has not allowed you to do this.
Ephesians 5:4-11 (ESV)
4 Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. 5 For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. 6 Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. 7 Therefore do not become partners with them; 8 for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light 9 (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), 10 and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. 11 Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.
Romans 12:2 (ESV)
2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
3 John 1:11
11 Beloved, do not imitate evil but imitate good. Whoever does good is from God; whoever does evil has not seen God.
2 Corinthians 4:2-6 (ESV)
2 But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. 3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. 4 In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 5 For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servant for Jesus’ sake. 6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.