There have been many rumors circling the Church of the true origin of Halloween and it's particular practices. So many, in fact, that I decided, as a Christian parent, it would be a good idea to research these things myself before making a definitive statement one way or the other to my children. I have spent the last few weeks immersed in history and ancient Church literature, as well as my husband having learned some of this from a Church History professor here at his school, and my findings have been shocking, to say the least.
So, where did we get Halloween and it's customs, particularly dressing up, receiving candy or other food, and jack o'lanterns? To answer that question, we must go back to the Middle Ages....
Back in the Middle Ages in Europe there existed one singular church. One of the peculiarities of said church is the practice of honoring Christian saints both in the loose term of the word: anyone who is redeemed by Christ, and in the stricter sense: a particular saint who's true or supposed works have, in the eyes of the Church, earned them a special place in Heaven. The custom of sainting someone became so popular that, soon, the Church ran out of days on which to hold festivals in their honor. The solution? All Hallows Tide: a three-day celebration to worship all the saints in all time. The first day, All Hallows Eve, served to honor those of the saints (loose-term) who had died in the last year, leaving behind the church militant (those still on Earth, fighting against the Devil and his darkness) to join the church victorious (the saints in Heaven who have won the victory by remaining faithful to the end). This day was a way of bringing peace and honor, also, to the families of the saints who had died.
Another one of the peculiarities of the Church at the time is the teaching of purgatory: the place where one goes after death to pay the penalty for sin before going to Heaven. Different ways of shortening one's time in purgatory were presented to congregates: pilgrimages to holy places, touching a relic of a particular saint, or, later, indulgences: literal payment for sin. This teaching was highly condemned at the end of the Middle Ages, by Martin Luther.... but I'm getting ahead of myself.
To celebrate the lives of their now-deceased family members, children would go from door to door collecting soul cakes: small round cakes baked with a cross on the top, and bring them home to their parents. These cakes were not eaten, but rather left out in memory of their saint until the end of All Hallows Tide, when they were discarded. Hence, the giving out of food on Halloween (the shortened version of All Hallows' Eve).
While the children were collecting these cakes, their parents would carve out turnips in the shape of their saint's face and put a candle inside to remember them and wish them a swift passage through purgatory. A prime example of a turnip carved with such a purpose sits in the Museum of Country Life in Ireland. Hence, jack o'lanterns, though the name came along later, which I will speak to.
And now we come to the most distinctive custom of Halloween: costumes, particularly those costumes of creepy ghoulies and wicked witches. All Hallows' Eve, as already mentioned, served to honor those saints who had remained faithful till the end, therefore victorious over Satan and his minions. The next morning/two days served to honor, additionally, all the Saints of the Church and their lives of devotion to the Lord, and, vicariously, God and all He had done through His Church over the course of history. Such a glorious celebration it was, dispelling fear of Satan and bringing hope and confidence in the Lord, that an additional custom was added: that of taunting the Devil for his failures, of his lack of ability, of his puniness (if you will) in the sight of the Lord and the Church. The celebration gave the people such a radiance of joy in the Lord that the Dark Prince suddenly seemed insignificant, irrelevant, childish. And, consequently, propelled the Church on to cast aside his wiles and schemes to cling to the Lord, just as their family members had done, for another year.
So, the children began to dress up as Satan and his minions as a means of mocking and chiding him. To declare to the world they weren't scared of him, and that his work was child's play compared to the glory of the Lord. Now... such boldness might understandable in an adult... but a child taunting Satan? Where did they get such confidence?
Well, children were taught that God accepted them as sons through adoption when they were baptized at a few days old. They were taught that they now belonged to the Lord, and no longer had need to fear the Devil and his schemes. They were taught "greater is He that is in me than he who is in the world." So, with childish faith and fervor, they clung to the promise of God, that He would protect them and that He was greater than anything the Devil could throw at them. Consequently, as is a typical child's practice, they taunted him who was weaker than they by dressing up as him to humiliate him and threaten him with God's power and wrath.
And that, is how Halloween and it's customs started. But, that is not all of the story.
Fast forward a few hundred years to somewhere around 1930 in America. The Church is no longer unified, as, in his attempt to reform the Church back to Scripture, Martin Luther was excommunicated and a church body believing as he did, who called themselves "Lutherans" (much to his chagrin...he wanted them to be called Evangelicals, which is the German custom now), started their own congregations, therefore starting a new church, something which hadn't been done since the split of the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Church hundreds of years before. At about the same time, a whole other group of believers split off, calling themselves the "Anabaptists", and so began a long and painful history of split after split in the Church, creating the Church as we have it today, fractured and differing in doctrine and truth. As orthodoxy (clinging to the old faith/customs/liturgy in the Church) became more and more unpopular, Church holidays were, for the most part, abandoned. Exceptions to that exist mainly in Christmas (which actually does have pagan origins and all of it's customs also stem from paganism) and Easter (which started out Christian, but is mostly overrun by paganism today). Them, and curiously, Halloween. By 1930, very few people knew why they celebrated it except that it was a tradition handed down by their immigrant ancestors. Most assumed it to be of folk origin, but fun and. mostly, harmless.
Enter the Wikkens: a demonic cult which teaches that, in the beginning, the world was at peace through worshiping "The Mother Goddess" and that discord came when people began going off and worshiping male gods, who were necessarily violent, and creating wars. Wikkens focus on empowering women through demonic practices, sacrifices, spells, and incantations. In order to validate their claim to be returning to an old and universal belief, they had to find some way of making it believable to the public so as to increase their already growing appeal (especially due to their beginning around the same time as woman sufferage). (Note: I am not in any way inferring that feminism is Wikken! I am simply stating that Wikka was and is attractive to many feminists due to its' focus on empowering women). And look what they found ripe for the plundering: Halloween! They quickly made it their sacred day, and asserted that Halloween predated the Church because a similar custom called Samhain was practiced by the Celtic Druids, and that the carved pumpkins actually stemmed from another Druidic custom named after a legend of "Jack" who was kicked out of Heaven and Hell to roam the Earth. Actual historians can tell you that the similarities are only consequential, except where a few immigrants mingled the two towards the end of the 19th century due to ignorance of the differences.
Because the people no longer celebrated All Hallow's Tide (with a few exceptions), and the reason behind it had been lost in the splitting of the Church, such a claim made sense to them. Educated and uneducated, and especially Christians, accepted this faulty assertion, and some even began to abandon Halloween altogether. Most (shallow) history sources will now tell you that the origins are unknown, but will list Samhain as the most viable suggestion. The lie was swallowed hook, line, and sinker.
Now, it is true that Wikkens perform all kinds of nasty practices on Halloween. Now, it is true that the darkness is slowly and steadily claiming this Church holiday for itself. Now, it is true that demons walk the Earth on this night that used to put them in their place. Now, the Church is losing.
Wow! It may have taken him hundreds of years, but Satan officially took a holiday that stomped him into the ground under the feet of a faithful Church and turned it into something that worships Him. Well... that is... if we choose to believe his lies.
But it doesn't have to be that way. We can, once again, take a stand on the power of Jesus over the sin and the Devil! We can, once again, teach our children that they are redeemed and have naught to fear! We can tell Satan that we are no longer afraid of him and that he has no power over us because of the blood shed on that Cross on our behalf! Whether or not your children go so far to spit in the Devil's face as to dress up like his minions, or just go out as princesses and cowboys, they are still taking a stand for the Lord on this night.
And.... grandmas love it.