October 26, 2009

Is “Halloween” Just Harmless Fun?

As we approach the end of October I thought it would be important to post a Traditional Orthodox teaching on "Halloween".

SOURCE: From a pamphlet by the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia

The “feast of Halloween,” celebrated by many in America, is rapidly finding its way in many parts of our world. It is portrayed as harmless fun for children. This could not be any further from the truth! Halloween is normally regarded as one more occasion for a party, one more opportunity for a good time without the least inquiry as to its meaning or origins. It is hardly a surprise when we consider that the greatest feasts of Christianity such as Pascha (Easter) and the Nativity of Christ (for which our ancestors prepared with fasting, prayers and tears) are now to so many, simply dates for eating, drinking and the exchanging of gifts. Be warned: Halloween is not what it appears to be! Its seemingly innocent manifestations represent a memory of an ancient celebration deeply rooted in paganism and demonology; furthermore, it continues to be a form of idolatry in which Satan, the angel of death is worshipped.

Known also as All Hallows Eve, the feast of Halloween began in pre-Christian times. It was originally a Celtic festival celebrated widely among the peoples of the British Isles and northern France. These pagan peoples believed that life was born from death. On this night, a certain deity whom they called Samhain, their lord of Death, was honoured at their New Year’s festival (end of October). On that night, Samhain was believed to lead hosts of evil spirits into the world. Samhain is also identified as the Grim Reaper, the leader of the ancestral ghosts. On the evening of the festival, a huge bonfire built from oak branches, which they believed to be sacred, was ignited in a high place. Upon these, fire sacrifices of crops, animals and even human beings were burned as an offering in order to appease their demon lord. It was also believed that Samhain, being pleased by their faithful offerings, allowed the souls of the dead to return to their homes for a festal visit on this day. Thus they believed that cold, dark creatures filled the night, wandering and begging amongst the living. It is from this belief that the practice of wandering about in the dark dressed up in costumes imitating ghosts, fairies, leprechauns, elves, smurfs (a German nature spirit), and other assorted demons, grew up. It is important to note that the ‘souls of the dead,’ or ghosts, are in fact demons cunningly mimicking the attributes of departed loved ones as much as is necessary to delude the observer. Any attention paid to such illusions is destructive! The dialogue of “trick and treat” is also an integral part of this system of beliefs and practices. It was believed that the souls of the dead who had entered into the world of darkness, decay and death, and therefore into total communion with and submission to the demon Samhain, bore the affliction of great hunger on their festal visit. Out of this grew the practice of begging for “treats” (offerings). If these “treats” were not forthcoming, then the wrath and anger of Samhain would be unleashed through a system of “tricks” (curses).

From an Orthodox Christian viewpoint, participation in these practices at any level is idolatrous, and a genuine betrayal of our God and our Holy Faith. To do so by dressing up and going out would be to willfully seek fellowship with the ‘dead’ whose lord is also known as Satan, the Evil One, who stands against God. Or, to participate by submission to the dialogue of “trick or treat” is to make offering, not to innocent little children, but to the lord of Death, whom they unknowingly serve as proxy for the ‘dead.’

In the days of the early Celtic Church, which was strictly Orthodox, the Holy Fathers attempted to counteract this pagan New Year festival by establishing the Feast of All Saints on the same day (in the East the Feast of All Saints is celebrated on the Sunday following Pentecost). As is the custom of the Church, the faithful Christians attended a Vigil Service in the evening and in the morning a celebration of the Holy Eucharist. It is from this that the term Halloween developed. The word has its roots in the Old English of All Hallow E’en, i.e., the Eve commemorating all those who were hallowed (sanctified). The people who remained pagan and therefore anti-Christian and whose paganism had become deeply intertwined with the occult, satanism and magic reacted to the Church’s attempt to supplant their festival by increased fervour on this evening. In the early middle ages, Halloween became the supreme and central feast of the occult, a night and day upon which acts of witchcraft, demonism, sorcery and satanism of all kinds were practiced. Many of these practices involved desecration and mockery of Christian practices and beliefs. Costumes of skeletons developed as a mockery of the Church’s reverence for Holy Relics; Holy things were stolen, and used in perverse and sacrilegious ways. The old practice of begging became a system of persecution designed to harass Christians who were, by their beliefs, unable to participate by making offerings to those who served the lord of Death.

As Orthodox Christians, it is important to be aware of how these anti-Christian, pagan and demonic practices have crept into our society and our very lives as innocent, fun, and playful diversions. Our Lord Jesus Christ calls us to the “narrow path,” to the bearing of our own Cross, to the difficult road of rejecting sin and embracing righteousness. By refraining from this hidden demon worship, we set ourselves apart from the world, perhaps even are mocked and laughed at for such stupidity and simple-mindedness. “How can children having fun be related to demonic activity?” they may ask. In the face of all this we must also remember that Satan is the “father of lies,” the great deceiver and he will go to any lengths to trap us into choosing to follow him rather than our Lord, even if we do so unwittingly and in ignorance. Know this: the devil exists; evil spirits exist! Our Lord Jesus Christ came into the world in order to destroy “him that had the dominion of death, that is, the devil” (Heb 2:14). Remember that many martyrs were tortured and killed rather than allow themselves to be coerced into tossing a little incense on a pagan altar. When we willingly participate in the sacrifice to the lord of death as a “harmless” social custom, we ourselves make a mockery of the witness of those martyrs. Instead, as Orthodox Christians, we are given the opportunity on this night to remember the feast of the Holy Unmercenaries, Saints Cosmas and Damianos, celebrated on November 1st. God has provided us with His Saints as a powerful weapon against the snares of Satan, even in the midst of such a deception. We should take full advantage of this weapon and turn our hearts and minds away from the celebration of death and onto the remembrance of God, Who is “wonderful in His saints.” Another weapon given to us by Christ is the power of Prayer and Fasting. In Christ’s own words, “by prayer and fasting” (Matt. 17:21) we can overcome evil.

We take great pains to protect our children and ourselves from disease and harm. We teach them good nutrition, hygiene and personal safety. We discourage them from engaging in fornication, substance abuse and other immoral and dangerous acts. Why do we allow them to dabble in darkness? Even if Halloween was good, clean, innocent fun, to what benefit-spiritual, intellectual or otherwise- is this for a Christian? Let’s teach our children to surround themselves with what is good and to “walk as children of light” (Eph. 5:8). Let’s show them that the hope of the Christian life is to be delivered from death into life with God for eternity! We are Orthodox Christians. We are called to be not of this world. We were instructed by our Saviour to pray: “deliver us from the evil one.” Halloween is the celebration of the evil one. Who could possibly support it?

What do the Holy Scriptures and Holy Fathers say on the subject? Here are just a few pertinent quotes.

“Abstain from all appearance of evil” [1 Thessalonians 5:22].

“Care should be taken to see that the children of Priests shall not give any mundane spectacles, nor witness any. This, in fact, has ever been preached to all Christians, to the effect that wherever there are blasphemies they ought not to approach” [Canon XVII of Carthage].

“That one must not join the heathen in celebration of holidays and festivals, and share in their Godlessness” [Canon XXXIX of Laodicea].


margaret said...

Samhain is a Gaelic word for "summer's end", we still call November "t-samhain" in parts of Scotland. It is not and never was a deity - I don't think I've ever read anything so badly researched or, rather, not researched at all as it's a hodgepodge of stuff that's been around on weird separatist protestant sites for a long time. No-one should need this tripe to decide whether or not its wise to let their 5 year old pretend he's a flesh-eating ghoul for a night.

Michael said...

It is okay to disagree, but please do not take an uncharitable tone.

The tract that was posted is consistent with the teaching of other Orthodox leaders:

* Bp. (now Abp.) Kyrill of Seattle (now of San Francisco). On Halloween. Orthodox Life, Vol. 43:5 (Sept./Oct. 1993).


* Archpriest Victor Potapov. "Concerning Halloween". Russian Orthodox Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, Washington, D.C.


For a different perspective on the history of Halloween. but nonetheless the same teaching of non-participation.

* St. Spyridon Greek Orthodox Church (T.O.C.). No. 11 - Do Orthodox Christians Observe Halloween?


Also listen to Fr. George Morelli's podcast:


The Archer of the Forest said...

My view is that it does no harm for a little girl to dress up and pretend to be a princess, fairy, or puppy dog for one night. I find that many a church these days is full of people who dress up and pretend to be Christians on Sundays. The other six days of the week, they act like the unholy. Now which is worse, a kid in a Batman suit for one night, or a corrupt deacon in the foyer every single Sunday?