Friday, October 9, 2009


Fall is here and with it comes the celebration known as Halloween. Traditionally, Halloween is recognized on October 31st. From its introduction into American society by Irish immigrants, pumpkins are carved with ghoulish faces and children dress in costumes ranging from ghosts to goblins to pirates and princesses and travel door to door demanding candy and treats in lieu of tricks enacted upon the homeowner who is unwilling to comply. When the evening is over, a month's worth of tooth decaying candy loaded with sugar is brought home and secreted away, and parents attempt to wind down their hyped-up children who have had their hand in it the entire evening.

It all sounds pretty benign and innocent from this perspective: children engaged in fun, receiving yummy treats and participating in dress-up and games. Halloween was a time of year that even I looked forward to. I spent hours creating scary costumes for my sons and looked forward to joining my sister and her children in walking the streets of our town. The fall leaves had dropped from the elm trees that lined the streets, the air was crisp and cold, and our children ran laughing into yards that were turned into cemeteries or haunted houses with sound-effects for an added touch. The kids had a blast and we ended the evening with doughnuts and apple cider at my parent's house.

Several years ago, a local church pastor wrote a letter to the Editor of our small paper following the celebration of that year's Halloween. It left an indelible imprint on my memory and caused me to question just what we were allowing our children to participate in. He recounted memories from his own childhood in his Scandinavian homeland where Halloween had a totally different meaning. The details have faded, but I do remember him recalling child sacrifice and dark rituals. He concluded that if we had experienced what he had, we would eliminate the practice of celebrating Halloween from our lives. So, let us take a very brief look (for the information is plentiful if one takes the time to Google it) into the history and practice of what we are now touting as a "holiday." Also, bear in mind that I am not condoning or condemning the practice of trick or treating, only providing food for thought so parents can make their own determinations.

Halloween began with the pre-Christian pagan Celtic people in Ireland. It was known as the festival of "Samhain" (pronounced "sow" like the female pig, and "en") - also known as the Celtic New Year - and was to mark the passing of harvest into winter by slaughtering livestock and stockpiling provisions to see them through the cold months ahead. They believed that October 31st signified a day where the boundary between the living and dead dissolved, and that the deceased were allowed that one 24-hour period to wreak havoc, sickness, crop failure, and death upon the living. The Celtic pagans would build bonfires into which bones of slaughtered livestock were thrown, dress in costumes and don masks to copy or placate the evil spirits, and even carve faces into turnips or rutabagas. They clung to the belief that the "head" was the most powerful part of the body and by using the head of the vegetable it would frighten off the embodiment of spirits and superstitions. This brought about the emergence of the jack-o-lantern, which is derived from a legend of a "greedy, gambling, hard-drinking farmer" who "tricked the devil into climbing a tree and trapped him by carving a cross in the tree trunk." The farmer was cursed by the devil and made to wander the earth by night with only the light of a candle inside the turnip to guide him.

The Celtic people also participated in games that were often in the form of divination, such as blindfolding a person and making them choose from among several saucers placed in front of them. The contents of the saucer, whether good or bad, determined the person's life in the year to come. Another game, one that has survived and is continued today among Irish and Scottish households, is one where a long strip of apple peel is tossed over the shoulder and believed to land in the shape of the first letter of the person's future spouse. Unmarried women were told if they gazed into a mirror on Halloween night, the face of their future husband would appear. However, if they were going to die before marriage, a face of a skull would hover in there. It is reported that this custom continued even on greeting cards into the 19th and 20th centuries.

Samhain became "All Hollows Eve" when the Catholic Church began to "Christianize" the pagan Celts. Rather than eliminate the practice, the Catholic Church chose to combine it with their celebration of "All Saints Day." It was moved from May 13th by Popes Gregory the III and IV (which, according to sources I found, was the date of a pagan holiday, the "Feast of Lemures", whereby the ancient Romans performed exorcisms to rid their homes of the "malevolent and fearful ghosts of the dead") to November 1st. They believed that by uniting the two celebrations the Celts would embrace theirs.

We all know that Satanists and Wiccans have taken Halloween as their own "holiday." I found one particular website that admonished anyone who believed their "rites" and "practices" on this day were anything but innocuous and harmless. In fact, it was not long ago that a group of Wiccans were making noise about children dressing up as "evil witches" and giving them a "bad name." They wanted the practice stopped and one such town (I believe it was Salem, Massachusetts) caved in to their demands and banned children from donning witch costumes on Halloween.

We have also seen an increase in troubled and unlawful behavior arise during the Halloween season. Instead of harmless pranks being played out in one night upon households that do not participate, some youths have embraced "Hell Week" which involves several days of destructive and often violent behavior upon many aspects of society. It has become acceptable to get involved and excused away as "kids having fun."

Some evangelical churches have moved to eliminate the practice of celebrating Halloween from within their congregations. Their belief is that it invites participation in a Satanic and pagan ritual that has no place in the lives of Christians. Because I, too, am a Christian, I deeply respect their decision to remove the practice. However, I am somewhat disturbed by what has replaced it and the possibility of the hypocrisy behind it. Children are encouraged to participate in "Harvest Festivals" that are held at churches on Halloween night. They can even "dress up," although I am sure a ghoul or devil costume is out of the question. They play "games" and receive candy and "treats". In other words, they are involved in everything that a child who goes out into his neighborhood on Halloween is doing. The only difference is the location. I must, however, add that some churches encourage Scriptural themes and prayer during this time and are attempting to provide an alternative to the Halloween celebration. But the question that plagues me is, "What is so different about their celebration as opposed to the pagan one?" (Read a former witch turned Christian's perspective on "Harvest Parties"

The Celts celebrated their own "Harvest Festival" in Samhain, which signified the end of one season passing to another. They "dressed up", played "games" and placated the evil spirits with "treats." The parallel between Halloween and "Harvest Festivals" is just a little too close to make me comfortable. I would rather see the churches do nothing than attempt to provide an event that is riddled with similarities to ancient pagan practices. As is mentioned in the above article, the beginning of trouble is in the "fun" that is being had. If their congregants are firmly grounded in the Word of God they will make the proper choices for their children and for themselves.

As I am writing this, my daughter-in-law, Rachel, is scouring the local thrift shop for items to create my grandchildrens costumes for this up-coming Halloween. The kids are excited and looking forward to filling their bags with treats, even if it snows, which it more than likely will. And I am sure the boys will want to look as garish and gruesome as they possibly can. A few years ago Rachel and I had a conversation about whether or not to allow the children to participate. Her logic and reasoning placated my concerns. She is a Godly woman with common sense and I deeply respect her methods in raising my grandchildren with Christian values. Her response was that as long as her children were taught it was just another night to have fun, then she had no concerns. But if there ever came a time when it became something else, she would stop the practice. It is a choice every Christian parent must make for their children. I have Christian nieces and nephews who allow their children to participate in Halloween and others who do not. My oldest son's children participate at church functions instead of trick or treating. I respect both side's opinions and viewpoints on the matter and believe it is a personal choice that must be made by them.

However, several years have passed and Rachel and I recently had the same conversation. She breathed a deep sigh and said she also has been troubled about allowing the kids to participate in Halloween. Our viewpoints have changed - or should I say we are experiencing conviction - simply because we know that to partake in anything that is not ordained of God is wrong. We spoke at length, tossing about the pros and cons, and always ended in the same place: neither one of us could defend it because it is clearly a Satanic-based ritual that is full of paganism and unGodly practice. In other words, a sow is still a sow, no matter how well you dress it. Facing the up-coming Halloween and the kids' participation, we miserably failed to justify it in any sense - and believe me, we tried! - even by using the excuse that it is merely "fun" for the kids. When I concluded by asking her what then should be done, she frankly stated that we know the answer and to try and continue to justify it would always bring us back to the same answer. Although the kids will participate this year, Rachel feels the children are mature enough to understand why they most likely will not in the years to come. It is a disturbing thing to cling to "traditions" and not want to see them go, especially when they appear to be harmless but are, in truth, something we should turn our backs on.

It was not until after I accepted Christ that the practice of Halloween began to trouble me and make me wonder if, as a parent, I did the right thing. I still have a tendency to toss it around in my head looking for the right answer. I don't want to believe that something I did that appeared so innocent may have been offensive to my God. Nor do I want others I know and love to be plagued with making their decision. Part of me wants to merely look back on the experience I had with my children on Halloween - the anticipation of a night of fun with them and building good memories with my family - and be content with my decisions. The other part of me wants to eliminate the "holiday" from my past and my grandchildren's future.

Earlier I mentioned that I would neither condone or condemn Halloween. The musings I have written here are for my own conscience and to try and sort out right from wrong. It is the best I can do for me, and I know you will also do the best you can for yourself and your children.


Mama Mimi (Dana) said...

Ok. For what it's worth here is my opinion and I think, for now, my decision to allow or not to allow Charlie to participate in trick or treating and the parties that go along with it.

I have always told my kids that number 1, Halloween is NOT a holiday. It is just a day or night that kids go around and knock on doors and get candy. It's that simple. They have always dressed up just because kids like to dress up. Sometimes like their favorite hero or something that they think will scare the pants off of someone. There is no hidden meaning or agenda in their costume. Charlie has several super hero costumes down in his room (many don't fit anymore) and we have purchased princess costumes and little shoes and gloves, boas and jewelry for the girls to dress in. All of my grandkids and Charlie dress up when they are at our house. Again, it's a kid thing. They like to dress up.

I agree with the hypocrisy of celebrating a harvest festival at churches. Same thing folks only you are actually celebrating something.

Now with that, I must say that I have the utmost respect for those who have decided not to observe the night in question. Not so much for those who "give in" and celebrate at their church.

For us, it's candy, games, cider, doughnuts and Nana's chili. An excuse to get together for some great fun. The kids get a little hyper but so what. A dentist told me one time to make sure they eat all the candy as quickly as possible. Draggin it out leaves more time for cavities. (that was just a quick aside.)

One more note, if we look at most holidays, Easter and Christmas come to mind, there is a pagan back ground to all of them. Christians took those days and made them their own. There are traditions much the same such as candy, games, even dressing up. MInd you, it's eggs and a tree but......

So I guess, like Karen, these are just my musings. We are going to do trick or treating this year. We will also carve pumkins. I saw an e-mail the other day that had a neat story in it for those who might not want to carve pumpkins due to the pagan conotations involved. It said that as you carve the pumpkin you can use the story of Jesus coming into your heart. First he takes you as you are, cleans out all the guck and gives you a new face. I will use that with Charlie this year and will encourage my kids to do the same with their children.

What ever you decide to do, give God the glory in it. If you are trick or treating, do something nice for the person who is giving you candy. Tell them about Christ's love for them. Tell them the story of the pumpkin.

Have a good October 31st whatever you decide to do.

Karie said...

Nice article Karen.
Halloween has made me uncomfortable for years, and now we don't 'celebrate' or decorate at all. We do give candy to the few children who come to our door, but that's it. No pumpkins, witches, etc. Evil is too real to me to endorse such a 'holiday'.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts.
I love reading your blog.

Katy said...

Very thought provoking. I like Mom have always said that it's just a day to dress up and get candy! There are just so many great memories that I have growing up spending the day with my cousins! I don't like my kids to dress up gory, but they always choose something innocent. I think Mom has a good point too, share the love of God when you go door to door! Great idea! And there is a cute song that Gracie learned at Pre-school. Pumpkin Patch Song
I’m a pumpkin how ‘bout you
Once I was little then I grew
I was picked but there I sat
God picked me from his pumpkin patch
He picked me from his pumpkin patch
He took the yucky stuff out of me
Gave me a smile and eyes to see
Then he came inside my heart
And placed a candle in the dark
He’s my candle in the dark
So now I shine in the neighborhood
The light that comes ‘cause God is good
Once I was sad but now I’m His Child
He carved out this great big smile
He gave me this great big smile
So I’m a pumpkin how ‘bout you?
Once I was little but then I grew
‘Specially picked, how ‘bout that?
So I’ll be a light from His pumpkin patch
Are you a light from His pumpkin patch?
Copyright MRH 2004