Do you remember dressing up in a costume as a kid? Were you supposed to be someone famous? Something scary? Someone fictitious? Perhaps you were all of these at one time or another. For those of us who experienced the thrill of being with our friends, dressed to scare or impress, we sure did enjoy the race to gather as much candy as possible. It was great fun parading around our neighborhoods, shouting, “Trick or Treat?”
When I was much younger, the motion picture, E.T.: Extra Terrestrial, became an instant success. Not long after its release, I can remember dressing up as the tenderhearted creature with the glowing finger and all. I even had packages of Reese’s Pieces in every pocket. The best part was shouting, “Elliott!” every time someone would open a front door.
It is obvious that Halloween has become a major enterprise here in America, second only to Christmas. Estimates are that this “holiday” generates almost seven billion dollars or more in sales each year. More than 157 million Americans will decorate for Halloween. Isn’t that more than half our nation? The average person will spend no less than $74 on decorations, candy and costumes. In comparison, 80% of Americans decorate for Christmas. According to an article by Jennifer deCoursey titled, Monster Event for Marketers, Halloween is the third most popular party activity behind the Superbowl and New Year’s Eve. Here’s another fun fact: Ireland is the only country where Halloween is an official national holiday!
When and where did this all begin?
It was Pope Gregory IV who designated November 1st as “All Saints Day” or “All Hallow’s Day” in A.D. 835. This feast day was reserved for the church to celebrate all the Christian saints, known and unknown. The eve before, October 31st, became known as “All Hallow’s Evening.” Take away some letters and the word “All” and you end up with Halloween. Early church writings indicate that a day recognizing the saints (perhaps May 13) was observed prior to Pope Gregory’s edict.
There seems to be a general consensus among historians that Halloween took the place of a special day observed by the Celtic people, the original settlers of northern France and the British Isles. These were people who worshiped nature and participated in occult arts. They also celebrated the New Year on November 1st (their first day of winter). On October 31st, they believed the Lord of Death collected the souls of those who were condemned to be reincarnated as an animal in their next life. Only the souls of the good dead would be brought back as humans. Some would try to appease the Lord of Death with their prayers, sacrifices and gifts, but no guarantee was given regarding a loved one’s fate. In addition, it is believed that the Lord of Death gave permission to some who had died within the last year to roam about the earth and mingle with loved ones on October 31st.
The Celtic people were also convinced that a myriad of ghosts and/or evil spirits roamed freely on their New Year’s Eve. One of the ways they tried to dispel evil phantoms was by building large bonfires, typically on hilltops. As the story goes, young boys would spend several days wandering through the streets begging material for these fires. Ghosts that were frustrated by these lofty infernos would allegedly try to play tricks on the people. To counter such trickery, the people would wear bizarre masks and costumes and dance around the fires, pretending to be chased by these evil spirits—their way of hiding from them. Another way for the Celtic people to satisfy these mischievous specters was to provide various treats for them. Without providing a smorgasbord of tasty delights, the people feared these unwelcome vaporous apparitions would stir up dreadful happenings.
I would encourage you to read more about the fascinating origins of Halloween. For now, at least you now know a little of the history and the origins of the proverbial, “Trick or Treat?”
Happy All Hallow’s Eve!
Pastor Steve Pierce
Follow Pastor Steve on Twitter @revspierce