HumantiesTrace Halloween/Samhain back to the Celts of Ireland and explain when, how, and why it has merged with Christianity.

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booboosmoosh's profile pic

booboosmoosh | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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Married to a old Roman Catholic (a hippie), I have heard a great deal over the years about the struggle between the old pagan religions and holidays of the early Christian church in Europe. Along with some reading, my interpretation is that in trying to bring non-believers into the realm of the Holy Catholic Church, there was an "if-you-can-beat-'em-join-'em" attitude, where Catholic holidays were celebrated on pagan holidays. Over time, the pagan significance of the day dwindled and was mostly forgotten, while the overtones of the Catholic holiday were remembered (at least by a majority of people).

The Research Center of The Library of Congress notes:

The Celts believed that at the time of Samhain, more so than any other time of the year, the ghosts of the dead were able to mingle with the living, because at Samhain the souls of those who had died during the year traveled into the otherworld.

The site goes on to note the change of the face of Samhain with the arrival of missionaries:

Samhain became the Halloween we are familiar with when Christian missionaries attempted to change the religious practices of the Celtic people.

I've listed the URL of the website below.

I love this kind of history...

URL:

http://www.loc.gov/folklife/halloween.html

pacorz's profile pic

pacorz | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator

Posted on

I do not know if any of these answers have really tackled the question dealing with the merger with Christianity. There is good reason for this. Halloween is not a Christian holiday. Christianity has not co-opted Halloween. Halloween still remains outside of the church. There are so special services, which are held, and no sermons given on it, to be completely accurate. In fact, many Christians do not like Halloween. In the end, Halloween is just a secular holiday in the eyes of most. It is simply a day to have fun.

 

According to CatholicCulture.org:

Today (October 31) we celebrate the eve of All Saints. Pope Sixtus IV in 1484 established November 1, the Feast of All Saints, as a holy day of obligation and gave it both a vigil (known today as "All Hallows' Eve" or "Hallowe'en") and an eight-day period or octave to celebrate the feast.

Vatican II removed the requirement of fasting before a feast, but for centuries Halloween was indeed a holy obligation in the Catholic liturgy.  November 1st is still a holy day of obligation, and there is a Litany of the Saints that is to be prayed on that day.

 

 

kplhardison's profile pic

Karen P.L. Hardison | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

Posted on

The merger of the celebration postdated the Celtic celebrations as it was in the 7th century that the Christian Church (then the only Christian Church was what became the Roman Catholic [i.e., Universal] Church) took control of the pantheon where all pagan gods were honored and converted it to a shrine for "all saints," thus inaugurating All Saints Day. It was Pope Gregory IV who moved the celebration of All Saints Day from May 31st to November 1. He did this to "accommodate" the pagan holiday of Samhain and "Christianize" it by continuing the interpretively innocent traditions (giving food) and subsuming the pagan celebration under a Christian one.

readerofbooks's profile pic

readerofbooks | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

I do not know if any of these answers have really tackled the question dealing with the merger with Christianity. There is good reason for this. Halloween is not a Christian holiday. Christianity has not co-opted Halloween. Halloween still remains outside of the church. There are so special services, which are held, and no sermons given on it, to be completely accurate. In fact, many Christians do not like Halloween. In the end, Halloween is just a secular holiday in the eyes of most. It is simply a day to have fun.

accessteacher's profile pic

accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

Is this thanks to the Catholic church as #4 suggests, or is it actually thanks to the Romans and their policy of not angering vanquished populaces by simply adding traditions and festivals and allowing them to be consumed by Roman religion? The Romans invaded first, let us remember, and then Christianity became adopted as the religion of the empire afterwards. Perhaps our celebration of Halloween has more to do with Roman religious policy rather than Catholicism.

stolperia's profile pic

stolperia | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

The harvest time is also a time of death for plants as the winter approaches. The ancient Romans celebrated Lemuria, a festival to drive evil spirits of the dead from their homes, in the spring with some of the first harvest. Samhain had the same concern with the appearance of the dead on the Earth but timed the holiday to coincide with the fall harvest. Christianity created All Saints Day as its recognition of those departed who have gone to Heaven.

pacorz's profile pic

pacorz | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator

Posted on

To be perfectly accurate, most of this type of assimilation was done by the Catholic Church. Rather than attempting to obliterate the ancient pagan holidays, the Church simply co-opted them and converted them to Church holidays. As a result we have a weird blending of symbols; Christmas trees, Easter eggs, and Halloween masquerades all were originally pagan symbols, but they have over time become inseparable from the Christian holidays.

 

pohnpei397's profile pic

pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Halloween comes from Samhain which was a harvest festival, but which was also seen as a time when the veil between the worlds of the living and the dead was very thin.  This is where the idea of ghosts and witches comes from -- the idea that it was very easy for spirits to come out of their world and into ours on that day.

litteacher8's profile pic

litteacher8 | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Christianity merged Pagan religions out of practicality.  In order to get people on board, they incorporated various holidays by creating or changing Christian holidays to include some of the features of the Pagan ones. It may seem strange, but if you think about it it does make sense.

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