Congregation at Duke Chapel

What is the Christian History behind Halloween?

 

What is the Christian History behind Halloween?

presentation at Adult Forum by Sujin Pak

October 31, 2010

A Brief History of All Hallows Eve,
All Saints Day, and
All Souls' Day


Some General Background

  • Goal: Trace a brief history of All Saints Day (Nov 1), the eve of All Saints Day (All Hallows Eve, Oct 31), and the development of All Souls Day (Nov 2).
Trick or Treat cartoon
  • Background: History of martyrdom in the early Church
    • Persecutions under Nero (64-68 CE, martyrdoms of Peter and Paul),
    • Domitian (81-96 CE),
    • Trajan (112-117 CE),
    • Marcus Aurelius (161-180 CE, martyrdom of Polycarp),
    • Septimus Severus (202-210 CE, martyrdom of Perpetua),
    • Decius (250-251 CE),
    • Valerian (257-59 CE),
    • Maximinus the Thracian (235-38 CE),
    • Aurelian (270–275 CE), and
    • severe persecution under Diocletian and Galerius (303-324 CE).
 

Some General Background

  • Development of the idea of saints and sainthood
  • “Cult” of the Saints: importance of tombs, shrines, relics, and pilgrimages connected with the sacred bodies of saints
  • Saints and miracles
  • Saints and monasticism
Biblical Background:
  • Eph 6:18: “always persevere in supplication for all the saints.”
  • Heb 12:1: “we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses”
  • Rev 5:8: “When he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell before the Lamb, each holding a harp and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.”
  • I Cor 15:29: “Otherwise, what will those people do who receive baptism on behalf of the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized on their behalf?"

All Saints Day

St. Ephrem
  • First literary mention of All Saints Day appears in a hymn composed by St. Ephrem [pictured] in 359 CE.
  • Here he writes of a commemoration of the martyrs of Edessa on May 13.
  • By 411, this commemoration was moved to the Friday after Easter.
 

All Saints Day

Saint John Chrysostom
  • A sermon by Saint John Chrysostom (347-407 CE) places this feast of the martyrs/saints on the Sunday after Pentecost.
  • Indeed, Eastern Christian Churches (e.g. Syrian, Greek, Eastern Orthodox) still observe All Saints Day on the Sunday after Pentecost.
 

All Saints Day

Saint Maximus of Turin
  • In the Western Latin Churches, there is evidence as early as the 5th century of a celebration of All Saints Day also on the Sunday after Pentecost, as seen in a sermon by St. Maximus of Turin [pictured].
  • However, in 609/10 there is indication of a Roman celebration of All Saints Day on May 13th.
 

All Saints Day

Roman Pantheon
  • In 609/10 CE, Pope Boniface IV received the Roman Pantheon as a gift from the Emperor Phocas.
  • Pope Boniface dedicated it on May 13th under the title “S. Maria ad Martyres” (“Saint Mary to the Martyrs”).
  • Many think this is the origin of All Saints Day. (Note: Boniface may have chosen this day because of the prior Eastern feast for the martyrs of the East.)
 

All Saints Day

November 1

rose window
  • The origin of celebrating All Saints Day on November 1st is not clear.
  • One of the first indications of this date appears in the call of Arno of Salzburg for a festival of all saints on November 1st in 798 CE.
  • According to John Beleth (Catholic liturgist who died in 1165 CE), Pope Gregory IV (827-844 CE) transferred the feast day from May 13th to November 1st.
 

All Saints Day

November 1

GregoryVII
  • But according to Sicard of Cremona (d. 1215), Gregory VII (1073-85 CE) [pictured] was the one who moved the feast from May 13th to November 1st.
  • Regardless of how, by the 12th century, May 13th disappears from the liturgical books, and the feast of All Saints Day was firmly celebrated on November 1st.
 

All Saints Day

November 1

panel
  • Many scholars, however, object to the attempts to connect May 13th and November 1st.
  • Some scholars argue that the date of November 1st originates in Ireland and then later spread to the European continent.
 

All Saints Day

November 1

Samhain

These scholars argue that the Irish set the feast of all the saints on November 1st partly as a Christian response and alternative to the Druid Festival of the dead called Samhain. In this festival the Celts celebrated the beginning of the winter season.

 

All Saints Day

November 1 (Pagan Background)

Druid cross
  • The Druid religion was an ancient religion dating back to 200 BCE.
  • Samhain was the Druid lord of the dead. In the Druid religion, a joint feast honoring Samhain and the Sun God was held on October 31st.
  • Celebrations included sacrifices. Huge bonfires were built to guide the good spirits and banish evil spirits. Tables of food were offered. Villagers put on masks and costumes to guide the spirits out of town at the conclusion of the festival.
 

Overlap of All Hallows Eve and Samhain October 31

high crosses
  • Once the Nov 1st date was set, the Church’s celebration of All Saints Day began on the evening of October 31st (as a vigil for the saints).
  • In Samhain, the Celts saw Oct 31st and the end of the harvest as signifying the end of the "lighter half" of the year and beginning the “darker half."
  • During the festival, the Celts believed that the souls of the dead returned. Bonfires and masks were used to scare away evil spirits.
  • When the Romans conquered the Celts, they added touches such as cider and bobbing for apples.
 

All Hallows Eve

October 31

icons
  • Thus, All Hallows Eve began as a vigil kept before All Saints Day.
  • To be clear “hallow” comes from the Roman word for “holy” or “sanctified.”
  • As we’ve seen, the history is mixed: there’s a Christian history of honoring Christian martyrs and there’s a possible pagan background that Christians aimed to Christianize.
 

Other Interesting Events on

October 31

Sistine Chapel ceiling
Wittenberg

1512 The ceiling of the Sistine Chapel was uncovered for Pope Julius

1517 Traditional legend of Martin Luther nailing the 95 Theses on the door of the Wittenberg church.

1892 Arthur Conan Doyle publishes The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

1926 Death of magician Harry Houdini

1999 Roman Catholic & Lutheran churches sign the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification

 

The Story of the Jack O’Lantern

Jack O’Lantern
  • This custom began with the Irish
  • Long tradition of Irish carving turnips on All Hallows Eve to ward off evil spirits.
  • When the Irish came to America in the 1800s, they began to use pumpkins.
  • First known use of the term “Jack o’lantern” appears in 1837.
  • Based on the Irish folk tale of Stingy Jack.
 

Liturgical Celebrations

All Saints Day dove
The Saints
  • Catholics celebrate a feast day to honor the saints and remember Christians’ connections with the whole communion of the church.
  • Catholic traditions & customs include visiting cemeteries to remember loved ones who have passed away and giving “soul cakes” to the poor.
  • Children and the poor would go door to door and receive these soul cakes. Each eaten cake represents a soul freed from Purgatory.
 

Liturgical Celebrations:

Examples of Catholic prayers

All-Saints Prayer
Father, All-powerful and ever-living God, today we rejoice in the holy men and women of every time and place. May their prayers bring us your forgiveness and love. We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen
Prayer for Saintly Grace
Almighty and Everlasting God, who dost enkindle the flame of Your love in the hearts of the saints, grant unto us the same faith and power of love; that, as we rejoice in their triumphs we may profit by their examples through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Liturgical Celebrations:

Anglican Collect for all Saints

Almighty God, who has knit together your elect in one communion and fellowship in the mystical body of Your Son, Christ our Lord. Give us grace so to follow Your blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living, that we may come to those ineffable joys that You have prepared for those who unfeignedly love You; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord, who with You and the Holy Spirit. lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen
  • See the redirection of prayers directly to God, but a remembrance of the saints and a call to follow their virtuous examples.
  • After the Reformation, the Anglican Church fused together the celebration of All Saints and All Souls’ Day. [We will discuss All Souls’ Day next.]

International Celebrations of All Saints/Souls’ Day

Dia de Muertos
  • In Central & Latin America, this day is known as the “Day of the Dead” (Dia de Muertos).
  • Customs: bring food to gravesites and offer special bread in shape of people/skeletons.
  • In Mexico, relatives make garlands of real or paper flowers and place them on the graves of loved ones. Skeleton candy given to children.
 
city lights
  • In Italy, France and Spain, people lay flowers at the graves of deceased loved ones.
  • In Poland, Slovakia and Croatia, people will light candles and visit the gravesites of loved ones.
  • In America, it has become mostly a secular day (Halloween), though many Protestant churches will have a time of commemorating loved ones who have died.
 

All Souls’ Day

November 2

William Bouguereau's All Souls’ Day
  • This is a Catholic liturgical day that remembers the faithful dead.
  • The designation of this day to November 2nd is attributed to St. Odilio (d. 1048 CE), the 5th abbot of Cluny, who decreed special prayers and singing for the dead after All Saints Day.
 

All Souls’ Day

November 2

painting of souls
painting of souls
  • The custom of celebrating three Masses on this day began with the Spanish Dominicans in the 15th century.
  • Pope Benedict XIV approved the practice in 1748, and thence it was adopted by Spain, Portugal, and Latin America.
 

All Souls’ Day

November 2

Aladar Korosfoi-Kriesch's All Souls’ Day

All Souls’ Day

by Aladar Korosfoi-Kriesch
  • This feast day is connected to the Catholic belief in purgatory; specifically, prayers were offered for the souls in purgatory.
  • In the Middle Ages, popular beliefs included the belief that souls in purgatory could appear on this day as toads or witches.
  • Other popular customs included food offerings and processions to the cemetery to visit graves and leave flowers and lights on the graves.