Halloween Origins and Christian Connections

Posted by Randy | Labels: , , , , , , , , , | Posted On Saturday, October 30, 2010 at 9:28 PM

Halloween falls on Sunday this year (2010). Should Christ followers ignore it because of the dark and unChristian aspects to the holiday, or fully embrace it because our culture does, or something in between? My message on October 31 addresses some of this, and I've included a portion of it below (The entire message, "Turn the Light On," can be listened to online on our website, www.gateway-community.org). But, there is no way to cover it all, so I've also added additional material here that explains the origins of more of  Halloween's activities and practices.

It’s believed Halloween has its earliest connections in a pagan Celtic feast in Ireland and Britain before the time of Christ, called Samhain (pronounced Sah-ween or Sow-ane, and derived from Old Irish and meaning roughly "summer's end"). Like most primitive cultures that struggled with survival, Samhain was tied into the cycle of the seasons and food production. Samhain, on November 1, seems to have had multiple focal points:

  • celebration of the harvest, and make offerings to their gods (over 300) to express gratitude. It was also a day when animal herders moved their animals into barns and pens to ride out the winter. Weaker animals were slaughtered at this time for food during the winter, since frost and cold had already arrived and the meat could be safely kept.
  • the ending of the summer season (according to Celtic tradition, the "light" part of the year) that now leads into the cold, dark, winter ("dark" part of the year). Sacrifices were offered to encourage the gods to bring about the rebirth of the world in the spring.
  • the end of the old year and the beginning of the new year, because the Celts believed dark precedes light.
The Celts believed that on the "eve" or night before Samhain the boundary between the spirit world and our world became very thin. It was believed that deceased spirits or ghosts roamed the earth freely, seeking to attack the celebration feast and perhaps look for a new body to possess. 

Burnt sacrifices of crops, animals and sometimes humans were offered in bonfires, representing the sun, by the Celtic priests, called Druids, to placate the gods, to ensure the sun and light would return after the dark winter and to scare away evil spirits. The word bonfire comes from the words "bone fire," for it was literally the bones of sacrificed and slaughtered animals, along with the occasional human sacrifice, and wood that made up these fires. All other fires in the village would be put out on Samhain and villagers would relight their fires from this sacred bonfire.

Celts tried to appease the roaming spirits by leaving them gifts of fruit and nuts on their doorsteps. Centuries later Irish farmers went door-to-door collecting food and supplies for a village feast and bonfire. Those who gave were promised property and blessings, while those who didn't received threats of bad luck. When Irish immigrants came to America in the 19th Century this custom of trick-or-treating came with them.

To scare off these spirits, the Celts also dressed up in costumes to look like demons, witches and goblins, and wandered through the streets making loud noises to try to confuse and frighten away the spirits. From this we get the tradition of wearing costumes.

The Celts sometimes carried ugly, monstrous faces on hollowed out turnips, gourds, or beets, lighted with candles. These Jack-o-Lanterns were meant to represent the souls of the dead or goblins freed from the dead. It was believed that if a demon encountered something as frightening or terrible as itself, they would run away, sparing the homes from attack by the evil spirits. When the Irish brought this tradition to America, they had difficulty finding turnips but found plenty pumpkins. Over time, the pumpkin became the traditional "lantern." By the way, the name jack-o-lantern comes from a legend about an Irishman named Jack who was completely self-centered and so was forced to roam the earth with a burning coal inside a turnip (and then when the story came to America, a pumpkin) to light his way.

Nocturnal animals such as bats and owls were feared because people believed that they could communicate with the spirits of the dead.

Black cats were considered to be reincarnated beings with the ability to see the future. During the Middle Ages it was believed that witches could turn themselves into black cats. So, when a black cat was seen, it was believed to be a witch in disguise.

During the middle part of the first century (shortly after the death of Jesus Christ) the Romans conquered most Celtic lands, and introduced their own Romans festivals that morphed Samhain. One festival honored Pomona, the Roman goddess of fruit and trees. The symbol for Pomona was the apple. This is probably connected to the tradition of "bobbing" for apples, which used to be a bigger part of Halloween activities until concerns about health and germs became significant.

Then, starting in the 2nd Century, Christian missionaries made their way into the area and began converting the Celts. In 313 AD, Roman Emperor Constantine declared the entire Roman Empire was Christian, so the missionaries' task was now a part of the purpose of the Roman Empire itself.

The missionaries pointed the Celts to Jesus Christ, their Creator and Savior, who had defeated Satan, death and evil at the cross, and before him these evil spirits lost their power and were considered simply superstitions.

Samhain became, instead, a time when the Celts learned about Christian heroes and martyrs, as well as celebrate the lives of their deceased family members who had become Christ followers. This practice began to spread throughout the Holy Roman Empire, now Christian.

In the 7th Century Pope Boniface IV officially instituted All Saints’ Day on May 13 to remember and honor these saints and martyrs who had died, and to replace pagan festivals of the dead. In 834 AD Pope Gregory III moved All Saint’s Day to November 1, and October 31 became All-Saints Eve, or using the word common then for saint – hallow – All Hallows’ Eve, from which we get our word "Halloween."

The word “saint” in the Bible actually has its roots in the word “holy,” and means someone who is set apart for God – a Christ follower. "All Saints" was a day to remember and recognize all the saints who had died, and not just specially recognized Christians.

While Halloween's origins are older than Christianity, it was adapted by Christians to displace pagan festivals and practices. This has always been a common practice of Christianity, though in modern times it seems that our culture is making an effort to take back events such as Christmas and even Halloween, copying the practice of the early Church and attaching additional or other meanings. There is no mention of Halloween in the Bible, though many of the early practices associated with the day are clearly prohibited by God in the Bible. "'Don't dabble in the occult or traffic with mediums; you'll pollute your souls. I am GOD, your God.'" (Leviticus 19:31 Message)

My intent here is not to suggest that Christ followers should or shouldn't participate in Halloween. After thought and prayer, our family has chosen to participate in some Halloween activities, but we have tried to avoid dark or occult costumes and activities (my son has decided to dress as a hobo, and we're hosting a neighborhood party for some  friends). I believe this is a decision that has to be carefully weighed, because of all the dark and occult practices from Halloween's past as well as some modern practices, especially those connected to the occult. Sincere, dedicated Christ followers have argued for complete avoidance of Halloween as well as participation for the fun and as an outreach and witness to others. Either way, Christ followers must be diligent to avoid the dark practices of Halloween. "Put everything to the test. Accept what is good and don't have anything to do with evil." (1 Thessalonians 5:21 CEV)

Membership Update - Exercising Stewardship (October)

Posted by Randy | Labels: , , , , , , , , , | Posted On Monday, October 25, 2010 at 5:24 PM

This month I'm wrapping up my Membership Series for our Gateway members (and anyone else). I began this series in May, and each month I've added more to this series, explaining what we call our GUIDE. The GUIDE (part of our Membership Covenant) is a tool we use here at Gateway that not only describes what a "fully devoted follower of Christ" looks like, but also lists biblical practices and disciplines that help guide us in our spiritual journey.

This month I conclude by examining the "E" of GUIDE: Exercising Stewardship. I'm defining stewardship as the process of managing that which belongs to another. Modern-day examples in the business world include bankers and managers.

The biblical idea of stewardship is rooted in the belief that God created all there is, and it is all His. Because God is the Owner, He has rights, while we, the "renters" or "stewards" have responsibilities.

“‘You are worthy, O Lord our God, to receive glory and honor and power. For you created all things, and they exist because you created what you pleased.’” (Revelation 4:11 NLT2)
“The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it. The world and all its people belong to him.” (Psalm 24:1 NLT2)
The implications of this belief underlie much of how Christ followers are called to live their lives. It calls us to care for the earth, because it is God's, and we have been entrusted with the care of the planet and all that is on it. To that end, Gateway has begun recycling. Our church family has really helped us here as we've sought to learn what that means and looks like here.

Another implication of this belief is that our lives are gifts from God to be used for His purposes. Christ followers have been bought for a price - our lives are no longer ours but belong to God to be used for His purposes and His glory. We were created to love God and love our neighbors. We were created to share the Good News of Jesus Christ. Quite simply, we were created to do good for God's sake and glory.
“For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” (Ephesians 2:10 NLT2)
But perhaps the most difficult implication for us to accept is how we use the resources we have. The Bible tells us that everything we have, all our resources and even our ability to produce those resources, belong to God. Yet, our sinful nature too often grabs these resources for ourselves as means of security and greed and idolatry. We may not do this consciously, but we do it none the less. 

“…What do you have that God hasn’t given you? And if everything you have is from God, why boast as though it were not a gift?” (1 Corinthians 4:7 NLT2)
“If you start thinking to yourselves, ‘I did all this. And all by myself. I’m rich. It’s all mine!’—well, think again. Remember that GOD, your God, gave you the strength to produce all this wealth….” (Deuteronomy 8:17-18 Message)
Out of gratitude and obedience God calls us and invites us to exercise faithful stewardship of all He has entrusted to us. But perhaps even more importantly, God calls us to give back a portion of all we've received - the tithe, or 10% of our income - as a concrete statement of faith in God and His provision for our lives. God understands this is a challenge for us, so in this one instance He allows us to test Him.
“‘Should people cheat God? Yet you have cheated me! ‘But you ask, “What do you mean? When did we ever cheat you?” You have cheated me of the tithes and offerings due to me. You are under a curse, for your whole nation has been cheating me. Bring all the tithes into the storehouse so there will be enough food in my Temple. If you do,’ says the LORD of Heaven’s Armies, ‘I will open the windows of heaven for you. I will pour out a blessing so great you won’t have enough room to take it in! Try it! Put me to the test!’” (Malachi 3:8-10 NLT2)
For all these reasons, we believe it's important to exercise stewardship in our lives as testimonies of faith and faith-building tools. I encourage you to be good stewards of our earth by recycling. I encourage you to be good stewards of your life by using it to bless others and by serving. And I encourage you to be good stewards of the resources entrusted to you by tithing. And to help you do that, we've set up our 90-Day Challenge. The details about it are below if you'd like to take God at His Word and discover how trustworthy He really is.

As member of Gateway, stewardship is an important part of our spiritual journeys. I hope you will allow God to encourage you in this area. It has the potential to grow your faith like few disciplines do. Susan and I have tithed (and given above) for over 25 years. I've discovered time and time again God is faithful, and I've been blessed - not necessarily with more resources, but with the experience of knowing I can put my whole faith in God through Jesus Christ. Stewardship has been a great guide for my life!
The 90-Day Challenge
I would like to test God's faithfulness by accepting the 90-Day Tithe Challenge. I agree that for the 90-day period, my household will contribute to God, through Gateway Community Church, a tithe equal to 10% of our income. At the end of the 90-day period, if I am not convinced of God's faithfulness to bless my life as a result of my obedience to His Word, then I will be entitled to request a refund, up to the full amount of contributions made during that 90-day period.
To begin, I will mark my first tithe “90-Day Challenge” or contact Elsa Salinas: esalinas@gateway-community.org or (281) 286-1515. (Gateway must be told you are beginning this challenge for this refund offer to be in effect.)