Though holidays are typically enjoyable for all, whenever one arises, it seems to always have at least a few opponents. While Halloween and Christmas are controversial for their pagan origins, Thanksgiving and Columbus Day celebrate turning points in American history—those which didn’t turn in favor of American natives. Though most individuals celebrate holidays as simple occasions where schools and workplaces allot time for family, it doesn’t change the fact that there is a reason that holiday is being “celebrated,” regardless of how unpatriotic the origins of the day is.
Many a youth growing up in the Seventh-day Adventist church were regaled with the dangers of Halloween, while others experienced Oct. 31 as a simple cosplay occasion. An Adventist Review article from 2015 states that, “Seventh-day Adventists recognize that spiritualism has many faces. Some of them may seem harmless and even fun. Nevertheless, they lead children and adults away from God’s truth, and can become stepping stones to further entanglement with the occult.” These “stepping stones” likely come from Halloween’s ties to the Gaelic holiday of Samhain, meaning “summer’s end.” This holiday involved bonfires and drinks left out for fairies as well as divination through apple bobbing. If you are wondering how this centuries-old holiday became culturally appropriate outside of Gaelic culture, look no further than the Catholic Church.
In the fourth century, holy “relics” and their celebrations surrounding these relics were being circulated throughout various Catholic communities. To consolidate these holidays, an “All Saints Day” emerged, though it was celebrated on May 13, not Oct. 31. During the reign of Charlemagne, Pope Gregory IV commissioned a festival for all of the saints which fell on Nov. 1, making the night of Oct. 31 “All Hallows’ Eve”, which is where we get the name of the holiday.
Incidentally, the Aztec-based Mexican holiday, The Day of the Dead, which involved venerating ancestors with decorative skulls, also fell on Oct. 31 and was celebrated until Nov. 2. As cultures began to merge, the iconic Jack-o-Lantern developed from a legend that an ethereal blacksmith named Jack navigated through the darkness with a turnip lantern after he was barred from both Heaven and Hell. The once-pagan holiday was appropriated by the Catholic Church and then pseudo-Christian traditions developed it further.
When Irish immigrants came to America in the early 1900s, they brought Halloween traditions, and after the WWII sugar rationing was over, trick-or-treating exploded nationwide. A generation’s worth of capitalism later, the holiday that was once native to a selective people group was now available for anyone with access to a superstore to celebrate.
With such a mixed and broad-reaching history behind the holiday, Christians still wonder if it is culturally appropriate to celebrate Halloween traditions in today’s modern context. Do the mixed-religious and fairy legends corrupt the rest of the Holiday’s traditions into our current day, or does the spirit of candy consumption and creative costumes render its pagan origins ignorable? Should Christians treat Halloween as it is today, or as it once was? Celebrating the holiday in the ancient Gaelic tradition or through a Middle Ages clerical feast would be certainly foreign in today’s culture, but the holiday wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for those obscure traditions, so they obviously hold some weight.
In today’s culture, there is plenty of overlap between the holidays different cultures celebrate and avoid. A strict Christian might avoid Christmas because of its pagan ties and date inaccuracy, while a staunch atheist may avoid it due to its relation with the birth of Christ. Christians can send their children out trick-or-treating “all in good fun” while a true Neopagan might cringe at the notion of minions, ninja turtles and storm troopers jumping on the bandwagon of their revered holiday for the sake of junk food.
In the same way, holidays have adapted through time as they have progressed, we as Christians must determine what is acceptable in our own cultures, and what being a “set apart people” means for us individually. As to what is culturally appropriate, it seems to depend on what culture you are looking at it from: whether it be the perspective of your parents, your church, the rest of America, or one you are attempting to build yourself.