…Deal with it. No matter what you may have “learned” or been told in the past, it’s true. No doubt you’ve been lecture about how it was an appropriation of some forgotten pagan death festival, bastardising a culture and heritage. That is not true. Let’s look at the facts.
Neither All Saints Day nor Samhain are death festivals in the greater sense.
All Saints Day has little, if anything to do with the dead, let alone them coming back. While those Christian churches that observe the holiday hold that most saints are “dead,” they also believe that some are people who have never died. Such as Michael, Raphael, Gabriel, Elijah, Enoch, Mary… to name a few.
The idea that this is a death festival of pagan origins was concocted by early Protestants out of contempt. This was a means and excuse to persecute Catholics and members of other churches who were “basically Catholic” by claiming that they were praying to, or worshipping their dead, practicing divination, etc. In doing so and holding to this erroneous belief, they have invented and contributed to their own worst enemy, as the idea became widely accepted in secular circles. So much so, that it is commonly held as “fact.”
Now Samhain has long been held as a harvest festival but commonly over looked is that fact that it was a warrior festival. The oldest written example of this fact comes from “Leabhar na hUidre” which was written in the 11th century in the Irish people’s native Gaelic. It says (translated into English) ;
Now once upon a time the men of Ulster held festival upon the Murthemne Plain, and the reason that this festival was held was that every man of them should then give account of the combats he had made and of his valour every Summer-End. It was their custom to hold that festival in order to give account of these combats, and the manner in which they gave that account was this: Each man used to cut off the tip of the tongue of a foe whom he had killed, and he bore it with him in a pouch. Moreover, in order to make more great the numbers of their contests, some used to bring with them the tips of the tongues of beasts, and each man publicly declared the fights he had fought, one man of them after the other. And they did this also—they laid their swords over their thighs when they declared the strifes, and their own swords used to turn against them when the strife that they declared was false; nor was this to be wondered at, for at that time it was customary for demon beings to scream from the weapons of men, so that for this cause their weapons might be the more able to guard them.
Clearly, this festival was more to celebrate killing than remembering the dead. Not surprising as the Celts, as is well documented, were known to be a fierce war-like people.
"But why do we have All Saints Day then?" Certainly that question has been asked.
Since early times it has been a custom among Christians to mark and solemnise the death of a martyr, it would be difficult to make a holiday for each and every single one, not to mention difficult for the individual to remember them all. The holiday was created as a recognition of the litany of Catholic saints, of which there are significantly more than 365.
All Saints Day is a long established holiday that has been celebrated at various times of the year in various different areas of the world. In Ireland it was celebrated in spring, near the time of Pentecost and would be for centuries. In Ireland, Samhain was celebrated later in the year around harvest time in pre-Christian times. These holidays remained at opposite ends of the year. This would make it very difficult to subsume one into the other, even if it were still being recognised.
Pope Gregory III (a Syrian) placed the holiday on a fixed date, November 1, based on the German calendar. There is no evidence to suggest it was made or moved to replace an (even then) archaic holiday. There seems to be some suggestion that it was made to accommodate the influx of pilgrims into Rome in November, rather than in May, but not to force it over everyone to replace an obsolete holiday once practiced by a small group of people on the edge of the northern Atlantic centuries earlier.
While Pope Gregory III made All Saints Day a permanent holiday to take place on November 1 in Rome, it was Pope Gregory IV that made November 1 the fixed day for the celebration in all churches everywhere. However, even that is relative, as it was and still is customary to celebrate All Saints Day in the spring in the eastern churches.
Before the arrival of Christianity in Ireland, there was no written language to speak of and there was no fixed calendar whatsoever. There was no way they could have picked a fixed date for Samhain to take place on as such concept didn’t exist and they would have no way to hold to it.
As was the case with most primitive cultures, the passage of time was measured with a lunar calendar, hence words like “month.” There are 13 lunar cycles in one year, and they do not line up perfectly with the beginning and end of a solar cycle. Samhain was typically held on the full moon at the approximate halfway point between the autumn equinox and the winter solstice. In 2013, that would have been October 18. In 2014 that would be November 6. In 2015 it would be October 27.
On top of this, the only reason we have any record of any of this at all is due to literacy. This didn’t happen in spite of the arrival of Christian missionaries, but because of it. The monks and priests can not in all honesty be accused of attempting to erase pre-Christian Irish culture, for it is from them that we have records of life in that era. These clerics transcribed the old stories and legends of the Irish as they had no intention of destroying a culture. If one wanted to just erase the old ways, it would be far easier to simply omit the details of them.
Some people would just prefer that a pivotal moment in Irish culture and history was turned into a reviled footnote.
As for the less than religious activities of Halloween, nearly all of them were developed within the last 500 years at the very oldest. Many have no connection to old pagan customs, let alone to the archaic Irish pagan holiday.
- Bobbing for apples was an old Roman game
- Carving Jack-o-lanterns out of pumpkins started in North America as pumpkins were more plentiful than radishes and easier to cut. Carving gourds in food and placing candles in them is actually a practise that is thousands of years old
- Trick-or-Treating seems to have its roots in many cultures, though evidence seems to suggest it was borrowed from Martinmas traditions
- Many others are entirely modern
With all that said… all of it is 100% beside the point! Halloween is neither of the two holidays. It doesn’t happen on the same day as either and shares virtually nothing with them, besides taking place in fall and borrowing a name. Halloween is not for worshipping or praying to anything. It a time of games and tricks and candy.
Halloween is supposed to a a fun holiday in which we can all dress up, eat lots of candy and maybe enjoy a good scare. Don’t let a small petty group of people politicise and ruin it for everyone else by arguing over it.