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THE HISTORY OF HALLOWEEN
by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.
A sermon preached on Lord’s Day Morning, October 19, 2008
“And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them” (Ephesians 5:11).
The Encyclopedia Britannica gives us the origin of Halloween.
It long antedates [predates] Christianity. The two chief characteristics of ancient Halloween were the lighting of bonfires and the belief that this is the one night in the year during which ghosts and witches are most likely to wander abroad. History shows that the main celebrations of Halloween were primarily Druidical, and this is further proved by the fact that in parts of Ireland Oct. 31 is still known as… “Vigil of Saman.” This is directly connected with the Druidic belief in the calling together of certain wicked souls on Halloween by Saman [Samhain], lord of death (The Encyclopedia Britannica, 1946 edition, vol. 11, pp. 102-103).
The Celts and their Druid priests began the New Year on November 1, which was the beginning of winter on their calendar. They believed that October 31 was the last day of the old year. They believed that Samhain, lord of death, gathered the souls of the wicked dead and decided which animal form they would enter the following year. The Druids attempted to please Samhain because of his power over souls that had died in the previous twelve months. They believed that Samhain allowed these souls to return to earth for a few hours on Halloween, which was New Year’s Eve, October 31 on their calendar. On that night they believed that ghosts and witches roamed the earth.
For several days before October 31 young people would go from house to house begging for material to be used to build large bonfires to frighten away evil spirits. Human sacrifices were also offered to pacify these evil spirits. After the Romans conquered Britain, some of their customs were added to the Druidic rites, but human sacrifice was banned on this night by the Romans. The Encyclopedia Britannica says,
In ancient Britain and Ireland, the Celtic Festival of Samhain was observed on October 31, at the end of summer…The souls of the dead were supposed to revisit their homes on this day and the…festival acquired sinister significance, with ghosts, witches, goblins, black cats, fairies and demons of all kinds said to be roaming about. It was a time to placate the supernatural powers controlling the process of nature. In addition, Halloween was thought to be the most favorable time for divinations concerning marriage, luck, health, and death. It was the only day on which the help of the Devil was invoked for such purposes (ibid.).
In 609 A.D. Pope Boniface IV designated November 1 as All Saints’ Day and it remains as such in the Roman Catholic Church. In 835 A.D. Pope Gregory III declared that All Saints’ Day must always fall on the same day as Samhain’s holiday. He also declared that young men could go door to door to collect food for the poor and that people could dress up like saints to celebrate the holiday – thus the Pope sought to “Christianize” this pagan holiday.
In early America Halloween was not celebrated because of the strong influence of Puritan Protestantism. Halloween was banned as a Catholic holiday by the Puritans in New England in the early days of America.
But beginning in the 1840s a large number of Catholics immigrated to America from Ireland during the “Potato Famine.” These Irish Catholics brought with them their Halloween traditions. In 1912 the Dennison Manufacturing Company began selling Halloween party decorations and books of costume ideas (John Ankerberg, John Weldon and Dillon Burroughs, The Facts on Halloween, Harvest House Publishers, 2008, p. 83). In 1921 Anoka, Minnesota became the first American city to officially designate Halloween as a holiday. In 1923 New York City began Halloween celebrations. Los Angeles began citywide Halloween celebrations in 1925 (ibid., p. 84).
In spite of the historical evidence for the origin of Halloween practices, Halloween today is assumed to be an innocent time for most children. However, it is a very serious observance for many witches, neopagans, and other similar religious groups… In reading through various histories of Halloween…there can be no doubt that many of these practices and beliefs can be directly related to the practices of pagan religions (Ankerberg, Weldon and Burroughs, ibid., pp. 23-24).
Writing in Christianity Today, Dave Bass said,
Profound changes are underway in the religious climate of the West…new religious forces are nibbling at the foundations of a society and a culture built largely on a Christian worldview (Dave Bass, “Drawing Down the Moon,” Christianity Today, April 29, 1991, p. 14).
Bill Uselton, writing for Hearthstone Publishing, Ltd., said,
With the rise of the New Age movement, an increase in the practice of so-called “natural religions” or paganism has occurred…This has…resulted in an increased interest in the occult, and the high holiday of the occult, Halloween.
This is not merely a history lesson, but a warning. The study of the history of Halloween is necessary for all concerned Christians, for the practice of observing Halloween honors a force that is as real today as it was two thousand years ago…Demonic influence and possession afflict this country [the U.S.] now as never before…Dr. Paul Lee Tan [has said],
“Satan worship and all forms of the occult are evident everywhere. It has been estimated that there are at least 100 million Americans who dabble in some form of black magic. In New Jersey, a young man was drowned by a group of friends at his request, because he believed that a violent end would put him in command of forty legions of demons” (Paul Lee Tan, Ph.D., Encyclopedia of 7,700 Illustrations)…
No, the occult is not dead. In fact, the occult is currently probably stronger than at any time since the Dark Ages…Who is to say what form of demonic power can manifest itself?...
The evil world of the occult wages an ongoing assault against Christianity. We believe the revival of witchcraft and the black arts [indicates that we are living in] the end times. Satan knows that Christ’s return is near, and he is [gathering] all of his forces to engage in battle [with Christians]…
It is of great importance to realize that the powers some claim are not powers of themselves: real sorcery relies on demonic or Satanic power. Ephesians 6:12 states,
“For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.”
There is…only one way to win against Satan: that is through victory through Christ Jesus (Bill Uselton, Trick or Treat: The History of Halloween, Hearthstone Publishing, Ltd., 1994, pages 18-22).
That is why I urge you to do what our text says:
“And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness…” (Ephesians 5:11).
Come home to church on Halloween night for a Christian celebration that honors Christ. Come out of the darkness of this world on the evening of October thirty-first, a week from next Friday. Spend Halloween night here with us in church, as we eat a meal together, hear a sermon, pray and enjoy Christian fellowship. Don’t go to a Halloween party. “Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness” (Ephesians 5:11). We want you to be here with us in church that night! Come and enjoy the food and Christian fellowship. It will be a lot of good clean fun, and it won’t have anything to do with demons, or Satan, or the occult.
We seek to worship and exalt the Lord Jesus Christ! Why? Because He died on the Cross to pay for your sins and rose from the dead to give you life. Come to Christ and His Blood will wash away your every sin. And be sure to be with us at 6:00 PM tonight for the preaching, the food and fellowship. As I said, we will have a lot of good, clean fun. And come back to church here on Halloween night at 7:30. You will be glad you did! Amen.
(END OF SERMON)
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Scripture Read Before the Sermon by Dr. Kreighton L. Chan: Ephesians 5:1-14.
Solo Sung Before the Sermon by Mr. Benjamin Kincaid Griffith:
“In Times Like These” (by Ruth Caye Jones, 1944).