Mansoor Dahri, UK
There are people in both groups who have reasons to reject Halloween and celebrate alternatives instead.
For those of you who don’t know, Neopagans are people who have tried to revive ancient polytheistic religions in which they used to worship lots of gods. Neopaganism is not one united movement but rather many different movements, such as Wicca or Neo-Druidry. Some Neopagans desire to revive the ancestral religions their forefathers used to have before Christianity came along and put an end to their ancient traditions.
Samhain was an ancient Celtic pagan festival in which they marked the start of the darker half of the year and was thought to be a time of danger and fear when the gods were supposed to play tricks on people. It was celebrated by the Gaels, whose descendants still live in Ireland and Scotland. The period of celebration was 31st October to 1st November. Samhain is thought to be the origin of many Halloween customs such as dressing up in costumes and lighting bonfires and lanterns.
All Saints’ Day, by contrast, is an established day in Christianity in which they remember their saints. In Western Christianity, this day is celebrated on 1st November (perhaps intentionally or by coincidence). But it is celebrated on a completely different day in Eastern Christianity. It seems that the day was originally an occasion for celebrating martyrs but eventually included all saints as well as martyrs. In Latin Catholicism, as well as other denominations, there is also ‘All Souls’ Day’ which is celebrated on 2nd November.
When Ireland and Scotland became Christian, people still wanted to hold onto their older pagan ways and not everyone would have become Christian at the same time. Therefore, it’s likely that Samhain and All Saints’ Day would have been celebrated side by side for a while and influenced each other. This isn’t so hard to imagine since both the Christian and Celtic pagan days already had some things in common such as the shared focus on the themes of death and departing souls.
In Ireland and Scotland, the two things merged together so that, on the evening before All Saints’ Day, people would always celebrate All Hallows’ Eve, which means ‘Evening of All Saints’ (‘Hallow’ = ‘Saint’ i.e. someone who has been ‘hallowed’ or ‘made holy’). The phrase ‘All Hallows’ Eve’ then became shortened to ‘Halloween’. And since All Saints’ Day is 1st November in Western Christianity, Halloween always falls on 31st October.
But Halloween was limited to Ireland, Scotland and nearby areas. It was not historically celebrated in the rest of Europe or in any other part of the world. This all changed with the mass immigration of Irish and Scottish people to the United States in the 19th century. As immigrants have always done, they brought their old customs with them. Mainstream America took a liking to these Halloween traditions and they spread far beyond their original immigrant communities.
America then exported Halloween back to Europe so that it became a cultural phenomenon there by the end of the 20th century. Now in the 21st century, Halloween has also been spreading from the West to the rest of the world. The rapid spread of Halloween around the world isn’t just due to the power of American culture and media; corporations and business interests are also involved. Halloween in the modern world is a highly commercialised phenomenon (much like Christmas) and is heavily promoted by people who want to make some money. This mass consumption also has severe consequences for the environment and people are increasingly speaking out against this and discussing how to celebrate Halloween in a more eco-friendly way.
But it is the influence of Paganism rather than materialism that has led some Christians to reject Halloween, or at least those who take their religion more seriously. They repudiate what they view to be dangerous Pagan customs and prefer to focus on All Saints’ Day as a time of prayer and contemplation. They might do nothing the day before or instead just celebrate Reformation Day on 31st October, if they’re Protestants. Anti-Halloween sentiment can be especially strong among Conservative American Evangelical Christians. The Eastern Orthodox Church is also somewhat opposed to popular Halloween celebrations.
So that’s why some Christians might reject Halloween, but what about Neopagans?
You might think that all Neopagans would love Halloween because of its pagan elements. However, this is not true. Some Neopagans are even opposed to Halloween because they view it as a corrupted, watered-down and Christianised version of the original festival of Samhain, which they celebrate instead, or their best reconstruction anyway.
While some Christians reject Halloween because they think it’s too Pagan and not Christian enough, some Neopagans also reject it because they think it’s too Christian and not Pagan enough.
About the Author: Mansoor Dahri is an online editor for The Review of Religions. He has recently graduated from UCL in BA Ancient Languages.