Sunday, October 29, 2023

Christians, Culture, and Halloween History--My Take On an Age-Old Debate


I really debated on whether or not to bring up the subject, but here goes...


Or All Hallows Eve, as some call it. Reformation Day aside, I'm referring to the cultural holiday we all know well.

Right up front I'll tell you my personal feelings. I don't like it. Haven't liked it since I became a disciple of Jesus. Let's look back.

All Saints Day, November 1st, was set aside in the sixth century by Pope Gregory to honor and remember Christian martyrs and other faithful who had passed away. I can deeply appreciate that. At this very moment, those martyred for their faith are crying out before God's throne, 

"O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?" (Revelation 6:10) 

So to me, a day set aside to reflect on the faith of those now in heaven and awaiting God's final restoration of all things is very respectful. 

But when this tradition was brought to the Celts of what is now Ireland, the U.K. and France, it began to mingle with the decidedly un-Christian beliefs and practices of Samhain held on October 31st. It is those pagan practices of some of my Celtic ancestors passed down through the generations with which I have the problem. 

On one end of the tradition, the time marked the end of harvest and the beginning of winter, when the old year ended and the new one began. It's a very understandable time to want to celebrate. Here's how I note that change of seasons. I admire my stocked pantry shelves in the basement and give thanks for the year's garden harvest. Then I put my feet up, grab a book, and enjoy a nice cappuccino to rest from my efforts.

My Harvest Safely Put By

However, back then, Samhain or All Hallows Eve, as it became known, was also considered to be a night when a door opened between our earthly world and the spirit world, allowing both good and evil spirits to pass between. 

This belief (fear) led people to dress in costumes and light bonfires in order to confuse and ward off the evil spirits. When Catholicism came to the Celts, the two events entwined--kind of like tends to happen with other holidays (Easter and Christmas come to mind). We lump the cultural with the spiritual, the holy with the traditions of men. We pick and choose which parts we want to keep and which parts we want to toss into the dust bin. 

In those times, not only did the Celts believe that the ghosts of the dead were walking the earth, they also depended upon some of the roaming spirits to help their Druid priests foretell the future. There are a number of other ties that remained bound between the two celebrations. Some of them are downright gruesome, others just questionable practices.

So here's my point. I'm not saying that it's wrong to celebrate certain holidays or seasons with festivity of various kinds, but with Halloween I draw my own personal lines. It's a little harder for me to sort the profane from the godly. For me, most of what passes as "fun" feels like a blatant invitation to evil. I don't think we can reason away things that do not honor our Heavenly Father.

October's end is, nevertheless, a great time to celebrate harvest and the finality of the warm season while preparing for the long, cold one ahead. I'm not put off by that at all. If family and friends want to hold an end-of-season harvest party, fine. Dressing up for costume parties can be fun anytime of year, not just at the end of October. And how about doing it as a favorite non-scary book character or an historical figure instead of a skeleton or witch? Playing games and sharing treats is exciting for children too, but does it have to be in association with trick or treat, with roots in the historical practice of "souling", which meant going door to door offering to pray dead people out of "purgatory" in exchange for "soul cakes"? Ick! 

Even more traditionally, maybe you could choose to spend time honoring loved ones and heroes of the faith departed. I absolutely endorse this. I'll be doing that in my own way.

Toying with the scary, the demonic, even the occult, and actually taking part in the practices that come from a culture of fear, death, and darkness under the guise of fun . . .well, that's just not for me. Nothing gets me out of a store and spending my money there quicker than seeing and hearing some of the giant, grotesque lawn statues they have on display. I literally can't take my grandchildren into one local store or they'll have nightmares after they leave. 

I'm afraid I might have stepped on some toes in posting about this. I don't mean to offend. These are my personal feelings, and if you disagree, you're free to do that. Nevertheless, as you pick and choose what and how to celebrate all the holidays coming up in the coming season, I suggest you follow your convictions with an ear tuned to God's still, small voice telling you whether or not He is being glorified. 

Remember that the devil is real, and he comes to steal, kill, and destroy. Always. He tries to make evil appear innocent. He wants us to compromise our faith. If you can celebrate the holiday without doing that, more power to you.

I have a different holiday I can't wait to celebrate. It's futuristic. It regards an event that hasn't happened yet, but it will happen one day, and I'll be there. It's the one when fear, death, and hell are forever banished. The one where Satan's power to deceive and destroy is stripped away forever.

Yes! God is going to crush Satan under OUR (believers) feet! Now that'll be cause for celebration.

I hope your autumn is full of beauty and blessing. May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.


The Love Coward is a post-WWII novel that comes to conclusion around this beautiful time of year. If you're looking for a sweet read filled with vintage nuances of the season's harvest bounty, you might enjoy Tulla's story of recapturing love and life’s simple joys.

Naomi writes to change the story, and her heart beats for meaningful historical fiction. Author of numerous novels and award-winning short stories, she and her husband Jeff are at home in the Wisconsin Northwoods. Her perfect day is spent writing, roaming the farm, snacking from the garden, relaxing in her vintage camper, and loving on her passel of grandchildren.


  1. I totally agree with you. After traveling to Ireland recently,the tour guide took the time to expand on the pagan holiday and how Catholics added it as a prayer for the dead to bring more converts into the fold. The reason my hubby and I are adamantly opposed is October 31st is the day that occult practitioners believe is the day spells cast are more powerful. Demonic activity is more active on that day. When our children were small, the church had a Holy Ghost Fall festival complete with a hayride, and lots of food.. No costumes though. It was always cold, so there was a roaring campfire. The kids played games, we all sang worship songs, and each child received a bag full of candy. My kids really looked forward to it. They did feel deprived of a party and trick or treat. Europe has recently add trick or treat tot heir celebrations in the past decade. Trick or Treat began in America. I wonder if candy manufacturer wanted another opportunity to make money.

    1. Thanks for adding to this. Yes, I didn't mention it, but I do feel like demonic involvement is more active at that time. I always tried to give my kids other things to do then too that were fun and didn't focus on the pagan traditions. They might have felt they missed something, but I still don't believe they did. Thanks for the input!

  2. I, too, dislike Halloween and tried to make a compromise for my children after we became Christians. I allowed them to participate in school costumes and parties and our church usually put on something around that time. For the specific night, I bought my kids their choice of candy and we took them out for pizza. Both of them have said they still felt they missed out and have embraced it for their own children, but they have to answer for themselves. We still don't decorate, and we don't turn our lights on to encourage visitors, although in this day and age not so many families go door to door.

    1. We did similar things and I always made sure they had a great deal of fun. Nevertheless, a couple of my kids have embraced it too, partly to please their spouses who grew up differently, and other ones haven't. I have no regrets. I don't think they missed a thing worth having. That's just peer pressure and the influence of the world pressing in. Thanks for the input!

  3. Hi Naomi,
    I want to start by saying I know you are a diligent historian, and I completely respect your choices regarding Halloween. But I do have a few counterpoints. I wrote this with great thought, and then when I tried to post it was too long. I considered just forgetting it, but I believe that understanding and respect is the way to co-existance. So I'm posting in two parts.

    Your language on how Christianity "came" to the Celts is rather soft. When in reality, the spread of Christianity to pagan cultures was neither gentle nor pretty in most cases, but brutal and gruesome. The inquisitions come to mind for one example.
    Samhain (Sow - en), the Celtic harvest celebration that influenced our American Halloween, translates as summers end. It was indeed a harvest celebration for the whole community. Admiring your own efforts in growing and preserving is wonderful (and by the way, I myself admire that beautiful wall of bounty you have there!), but as you know, in historic times thriving often depended on the whole community, not individual effort — so a community celebration of bountiful harvest would be only natural. As evening came, bonfire were lit for warmth, and a reminder of the strong summer sun that made growing crops possible. An ember from the fire was often carried home to the hearth, to "keep" (as in keep mindful) that the strong sun would return again in the spring.
    Yes, they also believed that the veil between the living and dead grew thin at this time of year. The reasons for the costumes was that they could go out and about blending in, therefore safe from any who might mean them harm. It's not like they controlled what spirits came through.
    I understand that for devout Christians, this all doesn't go down so well - God is the creator of all life, and makes the bountiful harvest possible. Christ is your shield and sword, no disguise is needed for protection. The Celts, too had deity to protect them —but those were taken from them, and had to be revered in secret . . . or disguise, lest they face the consequences, from persecution to imprisonment, torture and death.
    Souling, was not created by the pagans, but rather the ruling class, who handed out small cakes (more like a biscuit or scone) to the poor. If those in need offered to pray the dead out of purgatory, they were simply making an offer they thought valuable in order to get the food they needed. Purgatory, after all, was not a Celtic concept. If am poor and in need, and the ruling class can give me what I need, of course I'm going to offer something that seems valuable to them so they will be inclined to be generous.
    In early America, there were indeed harvest festivals. It wasn't until the Irish/Scotch Celts began immigrating in large numbers, that their traditions filtered in . . . about the same time that those in power (with available money) realized there was a market. Look at vintage, Victorian era Halloween greetings. We see this same phenomena with Christmas and the introduction of Santa Clause. Isn't it sad that we can always follow the money trail to find answers?
    The trick or treating element is two fold. Early on, children would recite a poem, tell a story or some other form of entertainment, in exchange for a treat - in other words, perform a trick. More so, by the 1920s, mischievous activities (from harmless to vandalism) found their way into the Halloween traditions. The treat ensured safety from such mischief.

  4. (cont.)

    We live in a global society now, and many cultures have many ways of spiritual worship. The Mexican tradition of Dios de Los Meurtos is also a celebration this time of year, with the belief that spirits can mingle among us. Families go to the resting places of their passed loved ones in a celebratory nature, bringing foods and candies, dressed in traditional finery. The imagery of skeletons abides.
    There are much deeper insights into the psychology of death and the afterlife, and how different culture view it, but that would take a dissertation. Suffice to say, in America, we are quite repressed about death and dying, and resistant to cultures that embrace it differently.
    I know you feel differently than I, and again I respect your beliefs and choices 100%. I also realize you wrote this for an audience that feels as you do, to consider the ways to approach the popular culture . . . and here I come, your non Christian writer friend butting in. I'm not trying to convince you or any of your fellow Christians to change your ways, but to maybe not demonize cultural practices that were forcibly suppressed and taken away from people who embraced them for centuries before Christianity. Understanding is always better than fear.