What is the history of Halloween? What is the origin of All Saints' Day?
The origins of Halloween, like those of many holidays, are somewhat obscure. The term "halloween" is a contraction of "All Hallows' Eve," referring to the night before All Saints' Day—a celebration of saints observed by Catholicism and some of the more liturgical denominations of Protestantism. As All Saints' Day in Western Christianity is November 1, Halloween is October 31.
It's believed that the first All Saints' Day occurred in May of 609 or 610. The Byzantine Emperor Phocas donated the Pantheon of Rome to the Roman Catholic Church. Pope Boniface IV consecrated the building, turning the pagan temple for all Roman gods into the Church of Saint Mary and the Martyrs. The church ordained an annual feast day in celebration, which was held at different times of the year across Europe until Pope Gregory III settled on November 1 in 835.
The association of All Saints' Day with other pagan festivals is unclear, but seems to be based on the date and the focus on the dead. Lemuralia was a Roman festival wherein people would exorcise ghosts of the dead from their homes; it occurred the same day as the Pantheon dedication. The October/November date is marked by the Gaelic Samhain. It was believed that the door to the otherworld was open on this night. Families welcomed the dead by leaving room at their tables, but disguised themselves from more malevolent spirits by wearing costumes or turning their clothes inside-out. To bribe the faeries for favor, food was left at the doorstep, and to ward them off, turnips were carved into lanterns. People also went door-to-door to ask for food or firewood for the bonfire feasts—the inspiration for trick-or-treating.
Whether Roman, Catholic, or Celtic, All Saints' Day's roots are firmly set in the global phenomenon known collectively as the festival of the dead. Ancient cultures from across Europe, Asia, and the Americas set aside time, often after the harvest, to remember and/or venerate their deceased ancestors. Some celebrations were designed to fondly remember loved ones and draw their spirits to visit family. Others were meant to cleanse the spirits of the dead from the places of the living. In sects that believe in purgatory, All Saints' Day is used to pray that the souls in purgatory can be released to heaven.
Although aspects that we associate with Halloween have been around for centuries, they didn't coalesce into the holiday we know until fairly recently. Mummers, or guisers, were acting troupes that wandered about and performed in disguise since the Middle Ages. Carved vegetable lanterns marked the time of the harvest. Trick-or-treating as we recognize it was first recorded in Scotland in 1895 and in North America in 1911.
There is nothing biblical about Halloween. There is no purgatory; the Bible does not give any instruction for the exorcism of homes; and every feast day that God ordained was to remember His work, not loved ones who had died. At the same time, many of the traditions of Halloween have lost their original meaning to the point that they are biblically neutral. Dressing in costume, begging for candy, and bobbing for apples are far enough removed from their pagan inspirations as to be allowable for Christians.
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