How Christians Invented Modern Halloween and then Forgot About It

1024px-Jack-o'-Lantern_2003-10-31Here’s a useful tip: when someone tells you that a modern holiday comes from a Pagan ritual they’re almost always wrong.

People in the church are sometimes afraid of Halloween, perhaps calling it a Satanic event or fearing its so-called Pagan roots. This is odd, considering that our modern version of the holiday comes from medieval church tradition.

Yes, many cultures celebrate something similar to Halloween. Few written records exist to tell us of the origins of these celebrations, but our culture’s peculiar Halloween practices are easy to trace.

The traditions we associate with the holiday started with a Christian celebration called The Dance of the Macabre, in which people sometimes dressed as dead people. It was a celebration of life and death.

An article from uCatholic explains it well:

“…artistic representations were devised to remind everyone of their own mortality. We know these representations as the “danse macabre”, or “dance of death,” which was commonly painted on the walls of cemeteries and shows the devil leading a daisy chain of people–popes, kings, ladies, knights, monks, peasants, lepers, etc.–into the tomb. Sometimes the dance was presented on All Souls Day itself as a living tableau with people dressed up in the garb of various states of life.

 Halloween. Medieval Church Style. Scarier than my Doctor Who costume.

 

Somewhere along the way, Christians forgot that dressing up as dead people was their own idea. Given the amount of negativity a lot of people have toward intellectualism, I’m not surprised that congregations can so easily forget their own history. In my childhood we heard of churches banning Halloween out of some Satanic fear. Ministers warned Trick or Treaters not to dress like dead people, even though skeleton costumes are right in line with church tradition. Thankfully, many of these concerns are fading away as congregations realize that Halloween is harmless.

Of course, it’s called “Halloween,” or, “All Hallows Eve,” because it proceeds All Hallows Day. (Also called, All Saints’ Day. Sometimes I wonder if Tolkien named these things.)  It’s true that Christians didn’t invent the idea of celebrating death, but our westernized version of Halloween exists because of an original contribution from the Catholic Church. There’s nothing “Pagan” or “demonic” about it.

So, have fun–I’ve got to go try on a bow tie.

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