Halloween not as evil as you may think

Published 5:53 pm Saturday, October 29, 2016

As we carved a smiling face into the orange flesh of a pumpkin, I didn’t give the origins of Halloween much thought. We carve jack-o’-lanterns every year simply because it’s fun, and it’s become a tradition at our house.

But it turns out some people are leaving the pumpkin carving and trick-or-treating behind. According to a Lifeway poll, 51 percent of evangelical Christians planned to avoid either Halloween in its entirety or at least some parts of it.

Most of us assume Halloween is rooted in a pagan celebration and most Christians who avoid it probably do so because of that. But historians paint a different picture of the holiday.

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“Most of the traditions we associate with Halloween are medieval or early modern in their origin — not pagan,” according to the Washington Post. “First, we know that festivals commemorating saints (All Hallows Eve) existed in Europe by 800. We also know that these festivals were not created to supplant previously-existing pagan rituals.”

The holiday does bear some semblance to the Celtic celebration of Samhain, which typically occurred at the end of the harvest season. And it’s been popular opinion that Halloween traces its roots to the pagan event. But some historians have argued that there’s no evidence that the event involved anything ghoulish or that we have much concrete evidence of what exactly the celebration entailed.

And, according to the Washington Post, a popular orthodox sermon compilation explains how All Hallows Eve came about.

“Pope Boniface IV converted the Roman Pantheon into a Christian church dedicated to saints and martyrs during the 7th century,” the newspaper wrote.  “This day was then commemorated as All Saints’ Day.”

The celebration was based in that Christian event, not a harvest festival or the Celtic Samhain. In this view, Halloween is a celebration of Christianity defeating paganism, according to the Post.

“It is the medieval Christian festivals of All Saints’ and All Souls’ that provide our firmest foundation for Halloween,” the newspaper wrote. “From emphasizing dead souls (both good and evil), to decorating skeletons, lighting candles for processions, building bonfires to ward off evil spirits, organizing community feasts, and even encouraging carnival practices like costumes, the medieval and early modern traditions of “Hallowtide” fit well with our modern holiday.”

At our house, we’ve tended to eschew the darker aspects of the holiday, simply because we don’t want to scare our young children. But we’ve probably also done so out of the assumption that Halloween was somehow evil. But history may be showing us otherwise.

So, feel free to carve the pumpkin and dress up in costumes. If historians are to be believed, even the Pope would approve.

Luke Horton is publisher of The Daily Leader. Email him at luke.horton@dailyleader.com.