As of Friday, October 30, 2015
Last night, I had the opportunity to experience one of the best Halloween traditions I’ve ever seen, the annual Trunk-or-Treat program in downtown Sunnyside.
Thousands of children dressed in fantastic costumes. There were superheroes, witches, Disney characters, pirates, ghouls, zombies and even a twin box of Willy Wonka Nerds candy. You name it, it was there. Adults participated, too.
After about four hours downtown, I went home with a great feeling about this year’s Halloween celebration. Our Daily Sun News “Pirates of Publication” entry was a hit. My staff and I had a lot of fun. And children had a safe venue to celebrate.
But when I got home and turned on the TV, I heard a clip of an evangelist preaching about the evils of participating in Halloween. In this day and age, to him, it was evil. But if you were downtown last night, you’d know there was nothing evil about All Hallow’s Eve in Sunnyside.
I just can’t believe people are still that uneducated about Halloween — which, incidentally, is my favorite holiday. So to set the record straight, let’s talk about Halloween and its history for a little bit.
In case you didn’t know, Halloween is a mixture of Christian and pagan celebrations. And while some of you may be aghast about some of the pagan traditions in today’s modern Halloween, they were actually designed to ward off evil.
Modern Halloween tradition began in the British Isles long before recorded history. Pagans there called it “Samhain,” generally meaning summer’s end. For them, Samhain marked the end of the harvest and the beginning of a new year. The ancient people believed that during this time of year, as their lands entered winter, that a door, so-to-speak, opened between the worlds of the living and the dead, allowing ghosts and evil spirits could enter the world. To prevent evil from entering, they celebrated the harvest with a great feast, bonfires, costumes to ward off evil and more.
The British Isles were eventually conquered by the Holy Roman Empire, which brought Christianity. The Roman Catholic Church declared Samhain an evil celebration. But as with many cultures around the world, people continued to celebrate the end of the harvest. Even today, many rural communities have an annual harvest festival.
Historians have different versions of what came next. Some say Pope Boniface IV introduced Feast of the Martyrs Day — later called the Feast of All Saints or All Saints Day — in the 7th Century. Those scholars believe he put it on the calendar for May 13 initially, then later moved it to Nov. 1 to be blended with the pagan celebration. Other historians believe the church renamed the holiday in about 840 AD and that Pope Gregory IV merged it with Samhain in 844 AD.
Still other historians believe the two holidays taking place Oct. 31 and Nov. 1 took time to grow together. They suggest that in 1484 Pope Sixtus IV added a Christian vigil to Samhain. That vigil became known as All Hallowmas, All Hallow’s Eve, All Hallow’ en and today, Halloween.
Christians celebrated All Saints Day, also referred to as “All Souls Day,” by providing cakes to the poor. Historians say the practice was established to encourage the poor to pray for the dead. Interestingly, pagans, too, shared food with the poor. Those traditions set the stage for our modern trick-or-treating. Of course, dressing up is fun for young and old alike, so the wearing of costumes eventually blended with the practice of sharing food.
I could go on and on about the history of Halloween, but I think you get the point. Our modern celebration isn’t about Satan. It’s about having a safe, fun evening. It’s about dressing up. It’s about feasting. And it’s still about warding off evil, no matter how religious you are.
Have a great Halloween this weekend.
‑ Roger Harnack is the editor and publisher of the Daily Sun News. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org