Are Christianity and Halloween compatible?
November 1, 2005 7:42 PM   Subscribe

Christianity and Halloween. Compatible?

I'm a student at the University of Pittsburgh, and I was instructed to write a paper about Halloween for my Culutural Anthropology class. I decided to focus on Christians who do not celebrate Halloween for religious reasons, mostly because I know of a nearby church that feels this way. They have a "fall harvest celebration." Instead of trick-or-treating, they have trick-or-trunking, where kids collect candy out of the back of cars in the church parking lot, as opposed to door-to-door. What is your opinion? Are Halloween and Christianity compatible? Is this particular church hypocritical for having trick-or-trunk?
posted by matkline to Grab Bag (48 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
Yes, they're compatible, unless you're a lunatic.
posted by klangklangston at 7:56 PM on November 1, 2005


I'm a Christian, and I have no problem with Halloween. But I would also advocate the use of condoms; and although I oppose suicide and divorce, my reasons aren't religious. So I may not be the sort of "strict constructionist" you're looking to poll.

I know Christians who believe that if you don't accept Christ as your savior, you'll go to Hell even if you lead a chaste, charitable life. I've never really understood the guidelines for "accepting" Christ; but all I can tell you is, those folks aren't talking about my God. That seems wildly arbitrary and capricious; and I've got to believe that if there's an immortal creator watching us all, he's better than that.

Celebrate Halloween. Be an agnostic if you like. I can't imagine a God that would condemn a good person simply because he grew up with the "wrong" religion. I don't think religion is about the afterlife; I think it's about being a better person here, among your friends and family, and toward strangers. I think, if you accomplish that, it was worthwhile whether or not there's a God -- and if there is, I have to believe that's enough for him.
posted by cribcage at 8:06 PM on November 1, 2005


If Saturnalia, winter solstice and Baby Jesus's birthday can be compatible, I fail to see why Christians have any right to bitch about Samhain.
posted by cmonkey at 8:16 PM on November 1, 2005


I'm a Christian, and I'm fine with Halloween.

In fact, of all the holidays celebrated nowadays, I'd say Halloween is the most community-building holiday we have. I think the reason it's so popular has nothing at all to do with ghosts and stuff, it's that it's a chance to meet the neighbors and see people's kids and give out little presents.

If anything, I rather appreciate the irony that the one holiday most offensive to fundamentalist Christians is the one which best illustrates the lack of outreach and sense of community missing from the modern Christian church.
posted by mragreeable at 8:16 PM on November 1, 2005


Sure, dressing up like devils and killers is compatible with Christianity. Haven't you read the books of Job and Revelations?
posted by davy at 8:25 PM on November 1, 2005


haha... don't get all pat robertson on me
posted by matkline at 8:26 PM on November 1, 2005


I don't see any reason why they can't co-exist. After all, Halloween is a major heathen holiday that wasn't co-opted by the early church.

Instead of trick-or-treating, they have trick-or-trunking, where kids collect candy out of the back of cars in the church parking lot, as opposed to door-to-door.

Our church does that too. Not because of any deep rooted antagonism to Halloween (or even a shallow one), but because it's in the country. It's a lot easier for everyone (and safer for the kids) to have them trick-or-treating in a safe environment than wandering along unlit two lane roads where people "just driving through" regularly drive 15 mph over the speed limit. (Yes, even at night, even on Halloween.) In order to get the haul the kids get at the church, they'd have to walk (or be driven) at least 4 miles. Might as well go to the church 2 miles away and hang out in their parking lot and eat donut holes and s'mores. Plus more people see your costume, there's a bathroom *right there*, there's a bonfire, and the parents aren't as bored (I've gotten really tired of taking the kids trick or treating, but I can't let the little one out on his own yet -- and he's 8 (see prior comment about the country)).
posted by jlkr at 8:35 PM on November 1, 2005


Ex-pentecostal here:

Former viewpoint - Why would a devout christian NOT object to a holiday that glorifies witches, devils and dark forces? The only problem I see with your example church is that they're willing to kowtow to media/secular pressure enough to hold a celebration on that day.

Current viewpoint - I'm willing to bet that there's folks much crazier than that around for you to interview if you're looking. Try ringing your way through the unaffiliated churches and assorted youth groups, asking for Halloween interviews. Be sure to pose as a 'Christian looking for a biblically based fellowship', or you'll probably get the watered-down for-public-consumption version.

I wouldn't give out a personally-associated phone number. Pay-as-you-go phones are great for these sorts of things. Remember, after all - We ARE talking about people who have devoted their lives to following a voice in their heads that tells them that it's God.
posted by Orb2069 at 8:37 PM on November 1, 2005


My fundamentalist baptist relations are not at all cool with Halloween.
posted by wsg at 8:40 PM on November 1, 2005


I actually did go to the church, and hung out with the youth group. The highlight of my time there was when the youth minister inadvertantly called himself gay, causing snickers, awkward silence, then a mini-sermon.
posted by matkline at 8:42 PM on November 1, 2005


Hell House is the ethnography you're looking for.
posted by glibhamdreck at 8:47 PM on November 1, 2005


Christians have been co-opting and repurposing other people's holidays for centuries. Halloween itself started out as a Christian alternative for a Celtic festival of the dead; if these folks want to repeat the process with their own alternative for whatever they think Halloween means today, it seems not so much hypocritical as ironic.

From my own experience as a child, it was very common for conservative evangelical Christians to feel uncomfortable with Halloween. Many of them believe that such beings as devils and witches actually exist, and thus have trouble enjoying a holiday which celebrates them, even in jest. My family celebrated Halloween, in a sanitized but more or less traditional fashion; costumes or decorations involving ghosts, vampires, and other spookies were strictly forbidden, but we still carved jack-o-lanterns, made costumes, and went trick-or-treating. Our church had a "harvest festival" the same night, for families who didn't like Halloween but didn't want their kids to feel left out; from what I heard it was well attended, but we never bothered with it.
posted by Mars Saxman at 8:48 PM on November 1, 2005


Lots of the people who really, really object to Hallowe'en are of the Pentacostal stripe who actually believe that you're in danger from Satan and dark forces and you're tempting fate by dressing up that way.

The more "mainline" churches tend not to get so hysterical about it. And after all, All Hallow's Eve is in some senses a Christian holiday (though I'm also aware of Samhain, of course).

I think the trend for "trick-or-trunking" at churches is only partly Christian antagonism towards Halloween as such, and also part of a trend towards alienation from one's neighbors/community, overprotection of young children insisting that they can't walk through the neighborhood, it's too cold, it's too dangerous, and so on.
posted by Jeanne at 8:52 PM on November 1, 2005


My Assembly of God in-laws have a lot of trouble with Halloween. One cousin and his family have decided not to celebrate it at all. Others are oaky with it, as long as kid's costumes are not devils, witches, etc. None of the adults dress up at all. They seem to see it as a fun time for kids, but not something you should reallly get too involved with, and there's no good reason why adults should want to "celebrate" it. My younger sister-in-law dressed up as a devil for Halloween when she was a freshman in college (rebel years) and her older sister was apalled, and told her " you should know better!". Obviously, there's pagan undercurrents to the traditions, and that's always a problem with the fundies.
posted by slimslowslider at 9:09 PM on November 1, 2005


Also there's the "Day of the Dead" Catholic connections, and you don't want to get those two involved (Christian fundies and Catholics, that is)
posted by slimslowslider at 9:12 PM on November 1, 2005


I've always felt that the people scared by Halloween are most frightened by the possibility that children might use their imaginations to construct worlds that are outside of their control.
posted by rdr at 9:14 PM on November 1, 2005


My uncle is what you'd consider a typical right wing fundamentalist christian but they've never had a problem with halloween, because they recognize it as the innocuous event that is, since the pagan beginnings aren't even considered as part of the celebration. The church that he (and I used to be a part of) was part of a Lutheran synod that would even be considered conservative by other Lutheran synods, and they didn't have a problem with halloween. Nowhere in the bible does it say you can't dress up as a scary imaginary character. If you're going along the 'thou shalt not have any other gods before me' route, since when is a witch a god? And since when do kids pray to their costumes? Lighten up!

I've always equated fear of halloween as typical of people who might also fear imaginary things like ghosts, magic, hexes, spirits, and bigfoot. Also, small synod-less non-demoninational christian churches that have couches instead of pews. Encountered enough of those to pick 'em out from a mile away.
posted by angry modem at 9:22 PM on November 1, 2005


This is the sort of question that cannot really be definitively answered, only opinions can be offered. (But you knew that, you asked for our opinions.) You cannot say whether or not "Christians" are ok with Halloween because there is almost no situation in which you can lump all who self-identify as Christian into one group.* Just the differences between (in general) Catholics and (in general) Protestants is enough to invalidate such logic; much less the differences between, say, Episcopalians and Lutherans and Southern Baptists and Methodists and...

For that matter, are Judaism and Halloween compatible? What about Buddhism, or Hare Krishna, or nihilism, or realism?

To determine whether or not a given church (i.e. a group of people that presumably share the same beliefs) is hypocritical to celebrate an alternate form of Halloween, again is going to be mostly a judgement call. If, for instance, they said Halloween is bad because some costumes promote the ideas of witchcraft and idol worship (superheroes) and such, then costumes would still be ok, but only a certain few.

My family was never big on "celebrating" Independence Day. We are nth generation Americans, we love the USofA, we appreciate and enjoy the freedoms we have here. But the whole big picnic/fireworks/flags everywhere type of celebration was not something we did. Doesn't mean we didn't agree with the 4th of July holiday, we just didn't celebrate it in the same manner that many do.

I consider myself a Christian, and I have no problem with Halloween as most people celebrate it. I do have a problem with Christmas - not the idea of it, or the holiday itself, but the way it is generally celebrated these days. Does this mean I "boycott" Christmas? No. Do I outwardly, publicly hold an alternate type of Christmas celebration? No. But I try not to get caught up in the more commercial aspects; I refuse to decorate before Thanksgiving (at the very earliest); I don't even like to listen to Christmas music too early. Getting back to the original topic of Halloween, I don't mind kids dressing up and playing make-believe on October 31 any more than I would any other day of the year. As long as you're not infringing on my rights, worship the devil if you like. I wouldn't recommend it, but it's not my place to try to stop you.

All this is to say that basically it has to be a personal choice. If there is anything about Halloween (or any holiday/celebration/custom/whatever) that you don't agree with, and that part is not able to be separated from the rest, than it would be hypocritical to celebrate like everyone else does. If you see it as a multi-faceted concept, and feel you can participate in some parts but not in others, do so.

Happy Thanksweenkwanzukka, and thanks for reading.


*This is the main thing that ticks me off about pro-evolution, anti-"intelligent design" scoundrels who lump all Christians together and call them idiots, or backward, or whatnot. (Of course ID is merely the current name under which this happens.)
posted by attercoppe at 9:30 PM on November 1, 2005


When I was growing up, my church never thought twice about Halloween. I honestly don't think it even occurred to them that someone might care about it except as another random holiday, like Secretary's Day or something.

Come to think of it, I'm pretty sure the minister would have said that wasting time and effort freaking out about Halloween, in the face of so many *real* problems, is itself sinful. If you could afford to freak out about it, you clearly weren't spending enough time feeding the hungry, etc.

scoundrels who lump all Christians together and call them idiots

I'd like to pause and suggest that your criticism might be more effectively pointed in the direction of the extreme rightwing groups who are attempting (with significant success) to subsume all forms of Christianity under their banner. After all, they're the ones who claim to be speaking in your name on a regular basis without anyone appearing to object (in a public venue). I can't recall the last time I saw a moderate minister on TV refuting the latest lunacy from the Robertson/Falwell crew.
posted by aramaic at 9:59 PM on November 1, 2005


My group of fellow Christians takes issue with the glorification of evil and darkness, things we take somewhat seriously. My church holds an alternative carnival event. Kids (and adults) are encouraged to dress up in non-scary costumes. We don't make an issue out of the super-hero idol-worship thing.

I suppose you could say we're being hypocrites for giving in to society and offering our alternative event, but c'mon... we're talking about kids and candy. It's just mean to deny kids a fun experience, so why not offer them a more wholesome and safe evening?
posted by clh at 10:08 PM on November 1, 2005


Yes, they're compatible, unless you're a lunatic.

And for an example of the lunatic perspective, let's hear from Jack Chick!
posted by mkhall at 11:47 PM on November 1, 2005


I've always felt that the people scared by Halloween are most frightened by the possibility that children might use their imaginations to construct worlds that are outside of their control.

Ding ding ding! Halloween, in addition to devilish connotations, has a lot of other heavy associations for strict Christians: wantoness (how many women use this as their one opportunity to dress provocatively and get away with it?), gluttony and greed (duh), and general anarchy and mischief. Halloween is a night to try out a racier, more exciting and egotistical self; I sense that religious strictures may be less an issue than the notion that if your kid does this, he or she might get stuck this way. It's hard to tell where religious injunction ends and general conservatism begins. There's also a lot more panic about crime that I don't think you can discount; lots of parents, not just conservative Christians, no longer feel comfortable sending their kids to knock on strangers' doors.

I've never researched this area, and I imagine it might be tricky to uncover this sort of information, but keeping your scope narrowed to a particular sect (the one to which your neighborhood church belongs) is a good idea. I'd also head to the library to see what's available on sect attitudes or policy about Halloween say 50 years ago (according to the site you linked, the church is 100+ years old, so there's some history there). Then, there weren't alternative activities like carnivals or trick or trunks, I don't suppose. I think it'd be fascinating, if you could get folks at the church to talk to you, to ask whether people who grew up in that sect got to trick or treat in their childhoods. And if so, why won't they allow their kids?

(Pointless aside: Teaching little kids to associate random car trunks with candy seems like an idea that came from the "not so hot" department.)
posted by melissa may at 2:37 AM on November 2, 2005


I'm a Christian, I don't do Halloween, and I have my reasons. If you want details, the email is in my profile.
posted by konolia at 4:20 AM on November 2, 2005


This is fascinating stuff -- did anyone watch Boston Legal last night? (I watch it for the scotch drinking, really.)

I attribute much of this condition -- rejections of what was, by most accounts, a harmless night of ghouls and goblins during my youth -- as fitting in with a general escalation of all things cultural. I cut my finger yesterday something fierce, so am not going to go into a lot of detail but I think contemporary objections are a direct reflection of contemporary escalations of celebrations: what was once one night of fun is overdone, setting the table for overwrought objections. Apply this to any holiday, the memorial landscape, museumification of everything, malling of America, extremes of religion, politics, with us or against us, etc. -- the list is long.
posted by Dick Paris at 4:54 AM on November 2, 2005


I grew up evangelical in rural Ontario, and we stopped doing Hallowe'en when I was 7. There was pressure from the church, who usually held an alternate event that night. However, it was also the only night of the year that we heard our dog growling, and that put my Mom off of the whole event.

From my church's perspective, witches and satanism and such are real things, real things that are fighting against God, and Christians should not associate with such things. To act like it's harmless would, I suppose, to be underestimating the power and influence of the other side.

As an ex-Christian, I don't really do Hallowe'en because I never got into it as a kid -- I don't know what the big deal is.

Focus on the Family's take on Hallowe'en
Evangelical beliefs about Hallowe'en (religioustolerance.org)
Relevant Magazine's Top Ten Good and Bad Things About Hallowe'en (emergent church movement)
posted by heatherann at 5:08 AM on November 2, 2005


I don't know, it seems to me that Halloween is one of the more Christian holidays out there. I know the neopagans like to go on and on about Samhain because it gives them a good excuse to get all gothed up, but I think if you really looked at history, it wouldn't be a big deal, and it would be a harvest festival. Now, Easter on the other hand...

I also think it's funny "Halloween is pagan! Let's replace it with... a 'Harvest Festival'!" -- makes you wonder if they have a clue what paganism is.
posted by dagnyscott at 5:17 AM on November 2, 2005


I'll weigh in as a Catholic, and say we celebrate Halloween evry year. My kids go to Catholic schools, and my wife teaches at a Catholic elementary school and they always dress up and have parades, parties etc...

That being said, we don't encourage our children to dress as serial killers. More often than not they have been religious themed costumes, which can be quite funny. The costumes have run the gamut from St. Therese to the Holy Mother, and the neighbors and our friends always get a kick out of it. Sometimes people don't get the reference (their Blessed Kateri costome looked like a Native American costume, even with the cross added), but it's all in fun.

And then we all go to church for All Saints Day the morning after. I don't see a problem with this at all.
posted by genefinder at 5:32 AM on November 2, 2005


What dagnyscot said.
posted by desuetude at 5:56 AM on November 2, 2005


Around here the Catholic School Board side steps the issue by closing the schools on Oct 31st for "Faith Day", I kid you not.
posted by Mitheral at 6:19 AM on November 2, 2005


Also, small synod-less non-demoninational christian churches that have couches instead of pews

I know this is a derail, but the question has been well responded to and I'm intensely curious: what's up with that? A lot of my father's family are hardshell Baptist and I never heard of couches. (Of course, I never went to church with them either, so G*d knows what they got up to in there.)
posted by languagehat at 6:38 AM on November 2, 2005


I grew up in a small United Methodist church in Alabama. Not only did we celebrate Halloween, we actually had a (very small) haunted house *and* a palm reader, along with the ridiculous amounts of candy and the cake walk. I remember inviting a Southern Baptist friend of mine, who was sufficiently weirded-out by the whole event. So, even now my whole family (either non-religious or at a different church) cannot fathom why churches make such a big deal about Halloween being "evil."
posted by hominid211 at 6:57 AM on November 2, 2005


You might want to check into what the Jehovah's Witnesses think about Halloween. I'm pretty sure they refuse to celebrate it. Of course, they only one small offshoot of Christianity, but maybe interesting for a section of your paper
posted by poppo at 7:19 AM on November 2, 2005


Halloween employs myths just like Christianity. If Christianity doesn't embrace these myths, bring them into the Christian arena as 'Satanic' then the myths would be competing myths. That's why Christians hate Halloween, it is an alternative fairy tale to their own. If they don't claim the monsters as coming from their camp (Satan) they lose legitimacy as the One True Myth.

This is true for Harry Potter and anything else magical. All competing magic must be described in Christian terms. Once Harry Potter is a part of the Christian mythos (Satanic) the leaders can instruct their sheep to hate these things. And when the flock directs their boycotts and hate toward the tools of Satan, it is really an attack on the competing fairy tales.

So in a sense, everything must be 'compatible' with Christianity, in order for the leaders to maintain control.
posted by The Jesse Helms at 8:11 AM on November 2, 2005 [1 favorite]


When I was going to Catholic School, we had regular Halloween celebrations, but then the next day we'd have a long super-boring All Saints Day mass.
posted by Sara Anne at 8:57 AM on November 2, 2005


Yes, I'll strongly second The Jesse Helms. I've spoken with some churchgoers who think Halloween is "wrong" and the problem is not about behavior. They don't think one night of dressing up and acting out is really going to ruin a good person. The real problem seems to be that Halloween offers a mythology that is completely separate and wholly unrelated to Christ. It's one of the few facets of popular American culture where Christ just doesn't show up at all. Not only that but it uses many of the same tools as Christianity--spirits, magic, notions of other worlds, physical manifestations of evil--and so it inevitably leads to questions about the Christian tradition.
posted by nixerman at 8:59 AM on November 2, 2005


What is your opinion? Are Halloween and Christianity compatible

Attercoppe pretty much sumed it up for me. In America "Christianity" is a huge tent that covers a wide range of belief. From Amish to Methodist, Four Square Gospel to Unitarian, Quaker to Catholic, there are more ideas about what being Christian means to people then we can ever hope to understand.

So my personal opinion as someone well grounded in the doctrine of the Methodist church is: yes, they are compatible. Halloween as celebrated by my church and by my parents was a day to let little children dress up in costumes and collect candy and have fun. Sometimes a little church doctrine was thrown in via the huanted house part of the festivities held at the church.

The strange thing is that my church, recognizing how popular the holiday is for families often held/holds their Halloween carnival on the night before, so that nobody has to decide between going door to door or attending the church festivities.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 9:02 AM on November 2, 2005


My husband and I just had a terrible time with his fundamentalist ex-wife over Halloween. It's completely incompatible with her worldview because it somehow glorifies the dead (this from a woman who has a little headstone for her mother in the garden at the side of her house) and is connected to pagan ceremonies.

My husband is an atheist who's attracted to Buddhism and earth-based (pagan) religions; I'm an agnostic leaning more toward atheism every day, and we're both practicing Unitarian Universalists. He DOES like the solemnity and respect for the dead associated with several cultural feasts that all converge around Halloween (Samhain, All Souls Day, Dia de los Muertos), BUT he kept that completely isolated from what he wanted to do with his kids--basically, carve pumpkins, dress up in (non-scary) costumes, and go trick-or-treating--i.e., the good old secular Halloween in the USA.

His seven-year-old completely refused to do any of it because of her mother and because she "loves God and Jesus." I asked her, point-blank, why God hates Halloween and she couldn't tell me. We tried to explain numerous times that their mother believes some things that not everyone else believes, and that we didn't think "God" should have any problem with Halloween because it didn't hurt anyone and that he would probably be happy to see kids having a good time with their families, but it didn't work. She wouldn't do anything--didn't proselytize, but removed herself completely (and didn't even eat any candy, which I think is pretty restrained for a seven-year-old). For the record, she did all of this with us last year and she was fine with it.

The five-year-old was fine this year, as well--did the pumpkin, wore a costume (a lamb--how satanic) and went trick-or-treating with her father. I think the seven-year-old is getting more direct instruction from her mother, because she's older; since she's hit the age of reason, she could be damned for choosing not to drink the Kool-Aid. The five-year-old is still "innocent" and wouldn't necessarily go to hell if she died while wearing a costume.

Their mother even went to school "to see what they were doing" on Halloween--yeah, to make sure that they weren't doing any Halloween stuff in school. (The school has to avoid parents like this by having a "harvest festival"--no costumes, etc., completely unlike the Halloweens my husband and I both experienced in our schools--mine Catholic, his public--growing up.)

In larger terms, I think the Jesse Helms is quite right about competing mythologies; I realized that a while back when I read a screed by one of the "family values" groups about the horrible things that happen in Harry Potter (blood sacrifice, demonic possession, animal sacrifice)--ALL OF WHICH happen in the Bible! (They conveniently left out that little detail.) I don't, however, even think it's so much that the "magic" aspect has to compete--it's the fact that God and Jesus aren't mentioned AT ALL in Harry Potter--it's a purely secular world--and they don't want kids to see that their hero Harry (and, by example, other people) can live a perfectly decent life without God, and wonder what they're doing buying into all the hoohah. Going back to personal experience in this light, my stepkids' mother is absolutely terrified that the kids are going to see that their father and I have a good and happy life without (her) religion, so she feels the need to destroy any of our celebrations that would appeal to the kids. As with most things within fundamentalism, it's all motivated by fear.
posted by dlugoczaj at 9:30 AM on November 2, 2005


P.S.--to show the real lunacy at work here, SESAME STREET is also a competing myth for this woman. My husband gave one of the kids (three years old at the time) a puzzle with Sesame Street characters on it, and she freaked out and wouldn't touch it because those were monsters, and monsters are in league with the devil. (I've always had my doubts about Elmo, but still . . . ). We realized at some point that Sesame Street's messages about diversity and tolerance and getting along were the real danger at work, and the monsters were just convenient scapegoats.
posted by dlugoczaj at 9:37 AM on November 2, 2005


I can't believe no one has mentioned the derivation of the word Halloween - it's from Hallowe'en, itself a contraction of All Hallows Eve, as in the day before All Hallowed Souls day, the older name for All Saints day.

So Halloween just plain is a Christian festival, regardless of pagan/Roman roots (is there a Christian festival not built on pre-existing religous festivals? can't think of one) and regardless of whether or not anyone bothers to celebrate All Saints the following day anymore.

And what the fuck is Samhain? Never heard of that one - made up hippy bullshit of some sort? Uh, sorry, I meant carefully reconstructed ceremonies based on expert analysis of the scant remaining historical evidence of some sort?
posted by jack_mo at 10:11 AM on November 2, 2005


Apparently Trunk-or-treat parties can get a little "un-Christian"

(Yes, I found the article from the Fark front page, so sue me!)
posted by Pollomacho at 10:12 AM on November 2, 2005


That's why Christians hate Halloween

SOME Christians, SOME Christians.

To just say "Christians" is like saying "Americans hate Halloween" or "people with brown hair hate Halloween." There are SO many different types of Christians. I'm a Christian (ex-Catholic, now ECC) who LOVES Halloween.
posted by jeanmari at 10:48 AM on November 2, 2005


So Halloween just plain is a Christian festival, regardless of pagan/Roman roots (is there a Christian festival not built on pre-existing religous festivals? can't think of one) and regardless of whether or not anyone bothers to celebrate All Saints the following day anymore.

And what the fuck is Samhain? Never heard of that one - made up hippy bullshit of some sort? Uh, sorry, I meant carefully reconstructed ceremonies based on expert analysis of the scant remaining historical evidence of some sort?


Oh, THANK YOU, jack_mo.

I'm so tired of Christians tying Halloween to a "pagan holiday", and I'm so tired of Pagans trying the same thing.

Here's a great reference article (warning: silly inline graphics and midi music). A few choice quotes:

  • Contrary to information published by many Christian organizations, there is no historical or archeological evidence of any Celtic deity of the dead named "Samhain." We know the names of some 350 Celtic deities and Samhain isn't found among them. The Celtic gods of the dead were Gwynn ap Nudd for the British, and Arawn for the Welsh. The Irish did not have a "lord of death" as such. McBain's Etymological Dictionary of the Gaelic Language says that "samhuinn" (the Scots Gaelic spelling) means "summer's end."

  • It's not only the phrase that is American, the practice is too! In America in the late 1800s and early 1900s, there was a custom of playing pranks on Halloween. This custom appears to have come from immigrants from Ireland and Scotland which had a practice called Mischief Night. Favorite pranks included tipping over outhouses and unhinging fence gates (Charles Panati, Extraordinary Origins of Everyday Things). The pleasant fiction was that such rambunctiousness was the work of "fairies," "elves," "witches" and "goblins" (Halloween and Other Festivals of Death and Life, p. 87).

  • The Halloween begging activity known as trick-or-treat comes from America in the 1930s, not the British Isles (see A Letter from a MacDonald). The custom was intended to control and displace disruptive pranks.

  • posted by thanotopsis at 10:59 AM on November 2, 2005


    Thank you jack-mo. I was waiting for someone else to state what I was thinking when reading the thread.

    I have to agree that Halloween's origin is European Christian. I know it's cool to say it stems from Samhain, but there were several such festivals in Christian Europe that mimicked the same pattern of trick-or-treat that were developed as harvest festivals. Granted this is from a Catholic perspective so I was brought up to see Halloween as the other side of All Soul's Day. I always saw it as a bit of the more emotional side of remembering the dead (Oct 31 imagine your loved ones are granted a night to walk with the living, Nov. 1 pray for their souls).

    So to answer the original question- they're as compatible as any other feast day. To echo other's comments- it really matters on what each sect belileves. How would we answer these questions- Is transubstantiation compatible with Christianity? Is the Feast of the Assumption compatible? How about Lent or Advent? They were all originally Christian beliefe. I think your topic os too broad and you need to focus on specific groups.

    I think what's more interesting is the fact that these churches are having harvest festivals which sound much like the rawer pre-Christian festivals of Europe that the Church originally tried to control through Christian.
    posted by rodz at 11:07 AM on November 2, 2005


    Samhain is a Wiccan observance.

    An alternate explanation for the word Halloween refers to Hallow's Eve referring to All Hallow's Day or All Saints Day on Nov.1.
    posted by vanoakenfold at 11:27 AM on November 2, 2005


    This has been a very lively discussion! Thank you all for your replies.
    posted by matkline at 12:33 PM on November 2, 2005


    Here's another thank-you for jack_mo's clarity. The connection to "Samhain" is invented post-hoc bullshit. There's absolutely no connection between Celtic practices and Halloween; anthropologists don't even have a clear idea of what the Celtic practices were. Halloween originated with Christian practice: the only holiday it's directly related to is the Catholic All Saint's Day.

    The idea of a connection between the Celtic festival of Samhain and Christian Halloween was apparently popularized with the John Carpenter move Halloween in 1978, and it's just caught on like wildfire.

    Salon did a great series on this exact topic a few years back. Here's the most relevant article.
    posted by mr_roboto at 1:02 PM on November 2, 2005


    The real problem seems to be that Halloween offers a mythology that is completely separate and wholly unrelated to Christ. It's one of the few facets of popular American culture where Christ just doesn't show up at all.

    There are many facets of American culture that don't involve Christ. The Fourth Of July comes to mind. Also Thanksgiving. Also much of Christmas: Santa Claus, his elves, Rudolph. Halloween employs the mythology of Christians because it's a Christian observance.
    posted by desuetude at 1:34 PM on November 2, 2005


    They are both based on fiction, so there should ne no problem.
    posted by notcostello at 1:59 PM on November 6, 2005


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