Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free (John 8 v32 NIV)
Many people dread Halloween. Whereas in the past it was possible to by-pass this time of year with little attention, these days the 'celebration' has become much more commercial, with schools often carrying out their own celebrations in the form of craft work and fancy dress. In almost every high street, spiders, cobwebs, ghouls and monsters are plastered over the shop windows. For parents and children who do not share these secular beliefs it can be a difficult time of year, with children often feeling 'left out' of something exciting. Some adults too, especially new Christians, may feel a sense of dread or of being under attack at this time of year. This is mostly due to the teachings of so called new age religions, which have grown more prominent over the years.
This can also be a difficult time of year for the church leadership. Do they choose to simply ignore Halloween? Or do they, as many do, launch their own counter attack with a 'praise party' to distract children from any party invitations they have been given by other well-meaning parents.
Surely a better option for children and adults alike is to understand the origins of our present day Halloween. Only when we know the truth (rather than the commercialized version of it), can we, as Christians, understand how to deal with it.
Halloween (in the UK) comes from the pagan time of Samhain (pronounced Sow-wain). The term 'pagan' simply means 'of the country'. Samhain occurred when the nights were drawing in and the temperature dropped – the beginning of winter. The Celtic year was divided into two – the light (spring and summer) and the dark (autumn and winter). Imagine you are living in a time when winter meant extreme hardship, cold, darkness, and in many cases the death of the weaker members of your community. It was a time when food was scarce for humans, let alone for the cattle and other domesticated animals they kept.
It made sense for people to give themselves the best possible chance of surviving the winter, and one of the ways of doing this was to kill any animals that they would not be taking through to spring. These may have been those earmarked for slaughter for meat or those that were considered too weak to make it through the winter. Food was scarce, so feeding animals that were unlikely to make it through to spring was not an option. The strong animals were driven between two fires to purify them for the time ahead and the weak were culled for meat.
This time was often known as the third harvest. The first was in July with the gathering of early crops and foodstuffs, the second at the end of August, similar to our own harvest festivals, and the third around the end of October with 'harvesting' of livestock.
It is not hard to imagine how this time of year became known as a time of death – although it was also a time of families working together to gather in the last of the harvest and salt the meat that would keep them alive during the winter months. It was thought that at this time, the veil between the worlds of the living and the dead was at its thinnest and it is probably an expansion of this belief (that spirits would cross the veil) that has led to the commercialized Halloween of today and the accompanying ghosts and ghouls!
Many people see this celebration as a harmless bit of fun, but as Christians we know that Satan is always on the lookout to draw people into his web. The glamour of some new age practices can sometimes draw the vulnerable into dangerous situations. The truth is that 'Samhain' or Halloween, as it is now called, was simply a way of making a difficult (and often unpleasant) task of preparing for winter more acceptable. It is the false teachings and commercial opportunities that surround this time that draw people in. It is also important to realize that 'Samhain' is no longer relevant in the modern world; we don't need to store up food in order to survive the winter months.
Knowing the origins of Halloween can set us free from superstition and often the fear that surrounds this time of year. Surely it is our responsibility as Christians not to skirt around this issue in church by ignoring it, but to bring it out into the open.
The truth sets us free. By sharing our Truth, we can set others free in Jesus name.