Sunday, October 30, 2011

On Halloween

Yes, I am jumping on the Halloween bandwagon, but I am going to try to keep an objective view of this so called holiday.

First of all, what does Halloween mean? Everybody should know by now that Halloween is a shortened form of All Hallows Eve which was an old way of saying All Saints Day Eve (yeah, I can see how Hallowe'en stuck). Now then, according to the Western Liturgical Calendar (the one the Roman Catholics, some high-church Protestants, and the Western Rite Orthodox use) All Saints Day is November 1st - this by default makes All Saints Day Eve October 31 - the date we all know now as Halloween. All Saints Day is the day set aside to commemorate, obviously, all the saints. It should be noted that in the Eastern Rite All Saints Day is the Sunday after Pentecost.

The first All Saints Day I can find mention of in the West was in AD 609 or 610.
"In AD 609 or 610, Pope Boniface IV consecrated the ancient Roman Pantheon as a Christian Church. (This, like the Orthodox Holiday, really was a co-opting of something previously Pagan.) The new name was St Mary and All Martyrs and the anniversary of the consecration, 13 May, was a feast celebrated in all the western Church. This was the beginning of All Saints’ Day in the West. It’s important to note two things: (a) this happens after the coming of St Augustine to Canterbury; and (b) it doesn’t happen on 1 November. These are important because of the claim (sometimes offered in error on these pages as well) that Augustine merely baptised a pagan feast day he found in England and that it came back to Rome. Nope. Sorry.
About 100 years later another Pope, Gregory III, dedicated another All Saints’ chapel – this one in St Peter’s – on 1 November and began to commemorate the feast on that day. The next Pope Gregory made that feast (on 1 November) of universal practice.
All of these Christian dates are very important because these dates mean the festival of All Saints (and thus the Vigil the night before) is a feast of the pre-Schism Patriarchate of Rome. It’s Orthodox. 31 October/1 November is not a Pagan festival."
There is a reason I start off my treatise on Halloween with a Christian holiday, but more on this later.

Now then, the main objection one always hears about Halloween is the Pagan connections, the most commonly and over-used is Samhain, an old Celtic feast the was supposed to take place every year on October 31. Anybody who has done any kind of research on the Celts should know that there is a problem with this belief; the Celts used a lunar calendar, not a solar one (in fact it was a very complicated lunar calendar that tried to reconcile both solar and lunar calendars: see Celtic_calendar).

The problem with a lunar calendar is that the days don't always match to a solar calendar. So Samhain could have been celebrated on October 31 according to the Celtic calendar, but would have been off by a few days according to the Church calendar being Julian (at the time, and no I am not going to get into Old vs New Calendar in this post). This will always be a problem with lunar and solar calendars.

It should also be noted that the earliest references of All Saints Day being on November 1 (and thus Halloween on October 31) go back to the 8th century, but the earliest references of an Irish festival (Samhain) are not found until the 10th century (Samhain and All Saints Day).

It seems to me that October 31 was never really THE day that the Celts celebrated Samhain, being on a lunar calendar it would have been hit or miss given the year (although it could completely be miss by now the way the Old Calendar celebrates Christmas on our Jan 6/7 and the New Calendar celebrates Christmas on our Dec 25 - that's it for the Church calendars, I promise!), it was probably just the closest date for Samhain to be celebrated when the Celts started using the Church (or Roman, or Julian) calendar.

Halloween became very popular in the US as the Irish and Scottish migrated across the sea. They brought with them the acts of guising (dressing up in costumes) and pulling pranks. Most of the traditions that we get from Halloween are from Samhain practices - since the two all but merged with the changing of calendars - are actually for warding off evil spirits, not communicating with them or encouraging them to come around (Gaelic folklore).

Contrary to what Jack Chick (The Devil's Night) and people like him would have you believe, trick or treating did not originate with the Druids coming to your door and asking for food and if you refused them they would take your child for a sacrifice. Rather trick or treating developed as children would go guising they would perform tricks (such as singing and dancing) in return for treats (food, coin, etc). An older form was people who would go begging door to door offering to pray for that family's dearly departed on All Souls Day (November 2 the day after All Saints Day) in return for food (Trick-or-treating and guising).

In conclusion, Halloween was not another Christian holiday with pagan overtones so the Church could get more converts. Samhain was never exclusively set aside for the night of October 31. That people do use Halloween as a night of darkness to commit horrible acts is not evidence that Halloween started as a pagan celebration, but evidence that we let the media and card companies (and Sears the first company to market Halloween costumes) take over yet another Christian holiday and that we failed to hold onto another sacred day. Halloween never started off as a pagan celebration, but a Christian one to commemorate all the saints, but the folklore of the surrounding area integrated with the Christian holiday (as oft-times happens, and more on this later during the Christmas season); so go out there and celebrate this Christian holiday with the knowledge that those neo-pagans sacrificing unicorns and kittens are posers and thieves who can't even invent their own proper holiday but have to steal one from us, and then accuse us of stealing their holiday!

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