| Gather 'round the campfire|
“”What would Jesus drop into her pumpkin? Would Jesus run off to church or hide back in the TV room with the front lights off?... Or would He use this golden opportunity to share His love with her?
|—Caption to a photo of a little girl trick-or-treating on Chick.com|
Halloween is a traditional celebration that takes place on 31st October each year. It is mostly widely celebrated in the USA, Canada, Ireland and the UK. It is a celebration of all that is ghostly, ghoulish and long-leggedy, it involves children dressing up as monsters, faces being carved into pumpkins and rubbish horror films being shown on Channel 4.
It's evil, I tells ya! Evil!
Fundamentalist Christians often oppose Halloween. A prime example was Jack Chick; in his tract The Devil's Night Chick claimed that Halloween originated in pre-Christian England, where pagan priests of Satan (pre-Christian beliefs and devil-worship being interchangeable in Chick's world) worshipped a death god named Saman, portrayed in an illustration as a grim reaper figure. According to the tract, trick-or-treating derives from the pagan priests' practice of going door-to-door and asking for offerings of food for their gods; if food was not given to them they sacrificed one of the household's children instead, leaving behind a jack-o-lantern to show that no-one else in the house would be harmed. Another of his tracts, Boo, delivers a similar story but also claims that the human sacrifices are still being committed by modern Satanists, and muddies its history even further by showing one of the pre-Christian druids carrying an Egyptian ankh. Both tracts depict pumpkins being used as jack-o-lanterns, despite pumpkins being unknown in Britain at the time, but this is really the least of the problems.[notes 1] The same claims about Halloween were earlier published by Chick in his 1978 Crusaders comic book Spellbound?, which also claims to locate the origin of rock music in the Druids. Chick's main source for Spellbound? was John Todd.
Similar claims were made by David Brown in a 1998 book on Halloween. Brown claims that trick-or-treating is derived from the practice of offering food to demons; that the modern image of the grim reaper was based on the Celtic death god Saman or Samhain;[notes 2] that Halloween costumes date back to a practice of wearing animal skins during sacrificial ceremonies; and, citing an unnamed book, that jack-o-lanterns originated as signs that households were sympathetic to Satanists.
In response to Brown's book, neopagan commentator Curr Cuhulain argues that Samhain was not a death god, but rather a minor deity associated with cattle - the Celtic death god was named Gwynn Ap Nudd, Bile, Donn, Beli, or Arawn, depending on the location. Cuhulain suggests that the idea of Samhain as a death god originated in Ray Bradbury's 1973 novel The Halloween Tree. The name Samhain is in fact of ancient attestation; a month Samonios appears on the Coligny Calendar from Roman Gaul, where it marks a summer month. Samhain as a month or time of the year is well attested, but there is no evidence that Samhain was the name of a deity. The entire notion of Samhain being associated with a Celtic deity originates from British military engineer Charles Vallancey, who had inaccurately documented the lore and language of the ancient Celts in his book, Collectanea de Rebus Hibernicis in 1786. As with Beltane, the chief means of observing Samhain was the building of bonfires. This part of the tradition in the British Isles got handed off to Guy Fawkes Day five days later. In many places of the British Isles both Halloween and Samhain were neglected until the custom was (re)-imported from the United States in the late twentieth century.
The actual source of the association of Halloween with the dead is the fact that it is, like the name says, the eve of All Hallows Day. This Roman Catholic liturgical feast commemorates the Communion of the Saints, the body of believers who have died and are now with Christ in Heaven. The same Catholic commemoration was exported to Mexico, where, under possible Mesoamerican influence, it became the Day of the Dead. The Aztecs may be entitled to part of the credit for that festival, which in turn influenced Halloween in the United States, but ancient Celts had nothing to do with it. The demonizing of All Hallows by Christian fundamentalists is especially peculiar, given the fact that death, resurrection, and the afterlife loom fairly large in Christian belief, and the existence of a holy day meant to call these things to mind seems like something you would expect.
In 2011, Paul Ade, a pastor from Calgary, Canada, put forward the idea of Jesus Ween as a Christian alternative to Halloween. According to Ade, participants in Jesus Ween should shun costumes on 31st October and should wear white clothes as a symbol of righteousness instead. They should also give out Bibles instead of candy to trick-or-treating children. Jesus Ween drew some media attention in October 2011. It was even parodied in a sketch on the American late night talk show Jimmy Kimmel Live! The sketch features unhappy-looking children dressed in white. A boy says that Jesus Ween is better than Halloween without any enthusiasm. A girl is obviously not pleased when she is given a Bible instead of candy. Towards the end of the sketch, all of the children proclaim, "I'm a Jesus Weener." The stupid name[notes 3] that does nothing but invite dick jokes might be one of the reasons why Jesus Ween failed to catch on.
Of course, it's not just Christians that get their knickers in a twist over Halloween. Muslims can sometimes be found spouting the same bollocks about the evils of the holiday as its most outspoken Christian opponents..
- And, to be fair, the text in The Devil's Night does describe "something like a pumpkin" being used. It seems the illustrator was just being unimaginative.
- Although it appears that this should be pronounced "Sam-hane", it is in fact, spelled with the insanely weird Irish orthography, and thus is properly pronounced "Shah-jig-a-ma-fig-la-mar" ... no, not really. Although, it is actually pronounced "Sah-win" which still doesn't seem to make any sense to anyone who speaks English.
- As previously noted, the word "Halloween" derives from "Hallow" and E'en", not from "Hallo" and "Ween".
- Quote on Fundies Say the Darndest Things
- "Halloween" on Etymology Online
- The Devil's Night on Chick.com
- Boo! on Chick.com
- David Brown, "Halloween Specifics" on Logos Resource Pages
- David Brown, "The History of Halloween" on Logos Resource Pages
- Curr Cuhulain, "David Brown (1)" on Witches' Voice
- See the Wikipedia article on Coligny calendar.
- Morton, Lisa (2012) Trick or Treat: A History of Halloween. Reaktion Books Ltd, p. 9.
- Hutton, Ronald (1996) Stations of the Sun: A History of the Ritual Year in Britain, Oxford, Oxford University Press ISBN 0-19-288045-4, p. 363.
- Hutton, Ronald. The Wheel of the Year: The ritual year in England (Oxford, 1993)
- "'Jesus Ween': Christian Group Promotes Godly Alternative to Halloween", The Huffington Post, 10 October 2011
- Sketch about Jesus Ween from Jimmy Kimmel Live! on YouTube
- "Beware of Halloween, it's Haram" on YouTube