We all know the routine. Kids dress up in ridiculous costumes and go door-to-door filling their totes with candy. Trick or treat! Halloween is considered a fun holiday and a rite of passage for American children. But it has always been controversial, from its beginnings in history to right now. So, where did Halloween come from, and is it a celebration of evil? We’ll take a quick walk through the history of Halloween and then analyze it today from a conspiratorial standpoint.
Today, most people don’t put a lot of emphasis on Halloween as having any true meaning to speak of except just being a fun occasion for children to dress up and go out on the town. To the Celts 2,000 years ago that dwelt all over Europe, the holiday was actually a ritual that was considered to be very important. The Celts celebrated their New Year on November 1st with a grand festival. It revolved around the end of the harvest season and was a segue into harsh winters. Many animals were killed as part of the festivals and celebrations, and the mass killings kind of resonated against the backdrop of winter’s arrival. In that time period, winter was a precarious thing. Everyone knew that many of them wouldn’t make it. So, the festival came to be associated with death, both of animals and the upcoming deaths of humans. The Pagan Celtics had a theory that the day between the end of their year and the New Year (October 31st going into November 1st) was a special event in both reality and the spirit world. During this brief period, they believed that the lines between the living and the dead were blurred, and spirits could pass between the two planes at will and congregate with the living. There were all sorts of things attached to this opening of the “spirit door.” Some people believed in demon possessions. Others believed the evil spirits simply wreaked havoc on crops and caused whatever mischief they could.
So, the Celtics needed something to protect themselves from these evil spirits and try to keep them from passing through to their reality. So, they dressed up in scary costumes, made lots of noise, and made offerings in a pagan effort to deter the evil spirits and make their lives easier in the coming months. There was a legend that fairies went throughout their lands, knocking on doors and begging for food. They were thought to dress up as less fortunate individuals. The idea was that if you gave the fairy some food or a gift, they left you alone. Otherwise, they would wreak havoc, right up to the possibility of death upon you. Sound familiar? It should. This is the modern day concept of “Trick or treat!”
The Roman Empire took over most of the Celtic land eventually, but they loved a good festival as well. The Celtic traditions got wrapped up into the Roman’s own penchant for festivals honoring the dead. This was a hallmark of Roman occupation; they took over menacingly, but they usually preserved some of the former ruling people’s culture, absorbing it, tweaking it, and ultimately making it their own. This kept the people happier and less likely to revolt. So, the festivals continued in some form or fashion for hundreds of years until the next big chance came along: Christianity.
As Christianity took hold, the Catholics expressed their distaste with the concept of a pagan celebration. So, they came up with a suitable replacement. This is very common throughout history. One culture absorbs another’s traditions by just putting a different spin on it. The Pope at the time, Boniface IV, selected May 13 and declared it All Saints Day, a day to honor saints and martyrs of the Church. That wasn’t enough to keep everyone happy, so they later moved it to November 1 as well, allowing the pagan festivals and the Christian festivals to operate in tandem. So, you see, even this new hybrid Halloween still revolved around the celebration of death. The concept of trick or treating continued, with many less fortunate people enjoying this opportunity to get some freebies.
As a side note, the superstition about black cats and Halloween started way back in medieval times as well. Black cats were thought to be evil at the time (history is not completely certain why, but it came from some sort of folklore as well), and around the same time the Bubonic Plague, or the “Black Plague,” millions of black cats were annihilated. Ironically, rats, whom the cat population helped control, became the major spreaders of the plague. So, killing the “evil” cats may have actually been a huge contributing factor to the outbreak of the Black Death. Another example in history of folklore and religion causing harm with good intentions.
Incidentally, pumpkins were not always associated with Halloween. The concept of the Jack o’Lantern goes back to Irish folk tales. Jack supposedly tricked the devil and found himself stuck between heaven and hell. But the devil had a soft spot for ole Jack and gave him a light to find his way. The ember was carried in a turnip that was hollowed out. In the United States, turnips were not as available in the appropriate size, so pumpkins became the new way to carry your light. In other countries, the idea of a pumpkin is completely foreign.
So, there you have it. Now for modern day. Every Halloween, there is a debate among those of the Christian faith whether celebrating this holiday makes sense. No doubt, thousands of Christians rally against the practice and its pagan roots. Others think it is a celebration of the devil.
What do we think? Well, like most things in life, it is what you make it. If you are dressing your children up in Halloween outfits and going door to door because you think you are driving off evil spirits for the winter, maybe you need to re-assess your position. If you, like most people, think it’s a fun activity for children with no purpose except to have a good time, socialize, and do something harmless and entertaining at the same time, then we would suggest you carry right on and just be safe out on the dark streets. The real evil spirits are predators that know that children will be out past their usual times. Those are the “evil spirits” we must ward off.