Halloween and All Saints Day have deep religious layers, each added as a new culture arrived.
The diversity of the celebration was brought to America by settlers, but Halloween became popular in the 1800s when large numbers of Irish and Scots immigrated to the United States.
The earliest major roots of Halloween are the Celtic festival honoring Samhain, the Celtic lord of death. This marked the beginning of winter, the season of cold, darkness and decay. The Celts believed that Samhain allowed dead souls to return home on the evening of the last day of their year: October 31. Flames and costumes can be found in this celebration.
In the year 43, the Romans conquered the Celts. People combined two Roman autumn festivals with Samhain. The Romans marked the Feralia at the end of October, which brought another emphasis on the dead. The second holiday honored Pomona, the Roman goddess of fruit and trees. At this point Apple became tradition.
As Christianity developed, pagan holiday customs were brought into its celebration of All Hallows Day. Hallows comes from the Old English “halygore” meaning holy man or saint. All Hallows’ Eve was often spelled All Hallow E’en.
In 834, All Saints’ Day, which honors all Christian saints without a specific feast day, was moved from spring to November 1.
The fourth main layer of Halloween came from the Middle Ages. People believed that the devil and his followers would mock All Saints’ Day the night before and commit unholy acts.
With this historical knowledge, some decide not to allow children to participate in October celebrations. They feel that superstition and witchcraft are very strong.
Despite its religious roots, many Christians question whether they should celebrate Halloween, as seen at Focus on the Family (www.focusonthefamily.com/parenting/should-christians-celebrate-halloween/).
Pay attention to the family’s website, “Dressing up in a costume and handing out candy on October 31 is not a sin.” It says that Christians should remember that they represent Jesus, and therefore show it in their dress and behavior.
For example, some churches encourage members to dress up on All Saints Day and dress up as a saint.
However you choose to participate or not, stop for a moment on October 31st and remember how deeply rooted the holiday is.
Sources: Dictionary of Christianity, JC Cooper; The World Book; The HarperCollins Dictionary of Religion, Jonathon Z. Smith, editor; World Religions, John Bowker