The past few days have been rather ... shall we say ... interesting. Although Halloween was on Sunday, my little town felt it was appropriate to have trick-or-treating this past Thursday, which consisted of nothing more than going from porch to porch picking a piece of candy out of a bucket left there.
(I have since discovered that this seems to be the norm in this county. Weird.) They also had the Halloween parade on Saturday. I had no intention of going to the parade, mainly because I didn't want to deal with two kids by myself and a crowd of people on a cold night, but we live on the parade route so we were able to just walk outside and sit on the porch. Plus, there was no way I was going to be able to keep Maeleigh inside with all the noise and lights right outside our door. Nonetheless, she sat on one of our chairs and was captivated by the whole thing.
Preceeding the parade, a group of people - I assume they were Mennonites by their dress and our location - were handing out pamphlets on what you should know about Halloween. I'm not saying I'm terribly surprised by this. We live in a very religious town. I live three doors down from one church and across the street from another. (And a block and half down the street is yet another.) We have two grocery stores in town and an all purpose store, all three of which are run by Mennonites. The only book store in town is a Christian book store. The entire town - literally - shuts down on Sunday, except, of course, for church. Horse and Buggies go by my house every day, at all hours. [Even when I lived in Wisconsin, in a town that wasn't terribly religious but still had as many churches as bars (the amount of liquor licenses allowed in town is based on population - at least in Wisconsin - and my town was maxed out on them.), church folk were handing out pamphlets at the movie theater when DaVinci Code was released.] Both of these groups were very kind. They weren't protesting or calling us devil worshipers or yelling at us that we were going to Hell. They were rather respectful. In fact, the Mennonites didn't really say anything at all. (And the Wisconsinites just said "we aren't telling you not to see the movie; we just want you to know the facts".)
Now I respect other people's beliefs and their choice to celebrate or not celebrate any holiday. If they want to hand out information on why they make those choices, then fine, as long as you respect the fact that I may or may not disagree with you, which is exactly how I - and everyone else at the parade - was treated. Respectfully.
What I do have a problem with is the misinformation.
After reading the pamphlet and speaking with a few people, I have narrowed the main reasons for not celebrating Halloween to two reasons. Paganism and Human Sacrifice. While these are two very different reasons, they do bleed (pun intended) into each. So let's start at the very beginning.
Halloween can find it's origin in Samhain, the Wiccan new year. It is a day to honour the dead and pay respects, much like Dia de los Muertos, Mexico's Day of the Dead. There is nothing sinister about it. It also symbolizes the end of the harvest - or the death of harvest season. Samhain has nothing to do with the devil, and neither does Wicca.
There are a few documents stating that the Druids performed human sacrifices, but they all stem from Roman warfare. Julius Ceasar - and Rome in general - were trying to discredit any and all religions that were different from their own. They did this in a number of ways, one of which was accusing the other religion of taking part in ritual human sacrifice. The Pagans weren't the only ones accused of this, although they do seem to be the only ones still suffering because of it. Rome accused the Phoenicians of sacrificing infants and the Jews of sacrificing humans. Because of the Roman governments lies and propaganda, many non Christians believed that Christians sacrificed children and then ate their bodies and drank their blood. The sacrament of communion - and its misunderstandment among non Christians - made this extremely believable at the time. To this day, historians still debate whether or not the Druids ever did human sacrifices at all. Even if they did, it's been hundreds - thousands - of years since then.
There are, however, several accounts of and references to human sacrifice in the bible. "Consecrate to me all the firstborn; whatever is the first to open the womb among the Israelites, of human beings and animals, is mine." Exodus 13:2 Here, God appears to be asking for the sacrifice of all first born children. That is a human sacrifice.
Leviticus makes a references to human sacrifice in chapter 27, verse 29. "No human beings who have been devoted to destruction can be ransomed; they shall be put to death."
The fate of people with differing beliefs is discussed in Deuteronomy chapter 13, verse 15. "You shall put the inhabitants of that town to the sword, utterly destroying it and everything in it - even putting its livestock to the sword."
Another reference is made in Joshua chapter 7, verse 15. "And the one who is taken as having the devoted things shall be burned with fire, together with all that he has, for having transgressed the covenant of the LORD, and for having done an outrageous thing in Israel."
In Judges, chapter 11 verses 29-40, Jepthah, a mighty warrior, made a pact with God. In exchange for a win against Israel, he would offer the first person to greet him from his house to God. Jepthah ends up sacrificing his virgin daughter to God.
In 1Kings chapter 13, verses 1-2, An unnamed man of God repeats the word of God, which calls for a human sacrifice. "While Jeroboam was standing by the altar to offer incense, a man of God came out of Judah by the word of the LORD to Bethel and proclaimed against the altar by the word of the LORD, and said, "O altar, altar, thus says the LORD: 'A son shall be born to the house of David, Josiah by name; and he shall sacrifice on you the preiests of the high places who offer incesnse on you, and human bones shall be burned on you.'"" Later, in 2Kings chapter 23, verse 20, Josiah does indeed sacrifice the priests on the altar. "He slaughtered on the altars all the priests of the high places who were there, and burned human bones on them. Then he returned to Jerusalem."
Ezekiel also seems to threaten human sacrifice in chater 21, verse 31-32. "... I will deliver you into brutish hands, those skillful to destroy. You shall be fuel for the fire, your blood shall enter the earth, you shall be remembered no moe, for I the LORD have spoken."
And wasn't Jesus a human sacrifice? He "suffered, died, and was buried" so that we all may have eternal life with our heavenly father. Aren't Good Friday and Easter a celebration of that human sacrifice? If one chooses not to celebrate Halloween because of its connection to human sacrifice, then shouldn't one also not celebrate Good Friday and Easter?
The other main reason people have for not celebrating Halloween is the fact that it is rooted in Paganism. Well, yes, it is. The whole idea of wear masks is to confuse the spirits so they leave you alone. Pagans believed that the border between the living and dead was thinned and that spirits - both good and evil - would walk among us. Masks kept your identity hidden from the spirits. Pumpkins warded off vampires.
But if you really look into it, there's more Paganism in Christmas. From the information given in the bible, we can deduce that Jesus was probably born in March, under the sign of Pisces. This would account for early Christians using the sign as a way of secretly telling others they were Christians so they could safely converse with each other. (One person would make half the symbol in the sand or dirt on the ground with a walking stick. If another person completed it, making the sign of Pisces, they both knew they were Christians and could discuss it with each other. To this day, the fish is a symbol of Christianity.) Yet, Christmas is celebrated in December. Why? Because of the Pagans.
By the time of Constantine, many Romans celebrated Pagan holidays, such as Saturnalia, which was arguably the biggest one. It occurs between 21 and 23 December every year. As a means of getting the people to adopt Christianity more freely - because Constantine had convered and was determined to convert everyone else by declaring it the official religion of Rome - Christmas was celebrated at the end of December, replacing the celebration of a the birth of a new year with the celebration of the birth of Jesus.
Besides the date, the Christmas Tree also has its roots in Paganism. During Saturnalia, the people would decorate their houses with pieces of evergreen and the outside trees. So if one wants to avoid Paganism and its symbols, one should avoid Christmas trees, and possibly Christmas as well.
While I respect someone's choice as to what holidays they choose to celebrate, I must say that I feel using Halloween's pagan roots - and its possible roots in human sacrifice - to be an empty argument. If one chooses not to celebrate Halloween because of human sacrifice, then one must also choose not to celebrate Good Friday or Easter. If one chooses not to celebrate Halloween because of Pagan symbols and customs, then one must choose to not celebrate Christmas, or in the very least, not have a Christmas tree.
So dress up as an Angel or an M&M and get some candy from your neighbours. Put up a Christmas tree and search for eggs in the backyard. Have fun in whichever ways suits you. Because when you boil it down, it's not about what the bible says or what Pagan symbols are attributed to it or anything like that; it's about what feels right to you and what works for your family. Because that's what holidays are really about - families. Fathers And Mothers Illustrating Love In Everyday Situtations.
** All bible verses from the NRSV