Reflections: What’s So “Hallowed” About “All Hallow’s Eve”?

Or, perhaps the title should be “The Hypocrisy of the Catholic Church”.

According to the Telegraph, the “Vatican condemns Hallowe’en as anti-Christian”.  The irony drips off of several sentences in the piece, but perhaps none more than the statement:

The Bishop of Siguenza-Guadalajara, Jose Sanchez, said there was a risk that Halloween could "replace Christian customs like devotion to saints and praying for the dead."

Of course, that assumes All Saints Day, the day after Halloween, is a Christian custom to begin with.

Like Christmas, it was a papered-over holiday that was given a Christian label.  All Saints Day originally moved around on the calendar quite a bit, but it was eventually moved to 1 November by Pope Gregory III.  This fell within the Celtic holiday of Samhain (which, like most Celtic words, is not pronounced the say it is spelled, but rather sounds more like “sa-win” or in some regions “sa-wain”).  However, like Christmas, you cannot completely take over a holiday and get rid of the pagan trappings.

Look at this surprisingly frank assessment from Christianity Today:

The truth is that Halloween’s deepest roots are decidedly pagan, and unlike Christmas and Easter, it as kept those pagan roots, despite its now Christian name. The controversy surrounding this holiday goes back well over a thousand years to when Christians confronted pagan rites of appeasing the lord of death and evil spirits. But the early Christians didn’t simply speak out; they tried to institute a Christian alternative. All Hallow’s Day (November 1) was a celebration of all "the holies" – those people who had died faithful to Christ.

This surprising admission of the pagan roots of Christmas, Easter and Halloween should give anyone pause.

In spite of these pagan origins, it is nothing new for the Catholic Church to issue admonishments against “heathen practices” on declared holidays.  Ben Best writes in the web article The History of Christmas:

Celebration of birthdays — even including that of Christ — was rejected as a pagan tradition by most Christians during the first three hundred years of Christianity, but the matter became increasingly controversial. Partly in reaction to the claims by Gnostics that Jesus had not been mortal, Christians began to emphasize the Nativity. The Incarnate God as a lovable infant born to a holy mother evoked powerful instinctive emotions. The third century Christian writer Tertullian supported observance of Christ’s birthday, but condemned the inclusion of Saturnalia customs such as exchanging of gifts and decorating homes with evergreens. Chapter 10 of the Book of Jeremiah begins by condemning the heathen practice of cutting a tree from the forest to "deck it with silver and gold".

The Vatican seems to have a history of condemning pagan customs on what is essentially a pagan holiday!  Should it be any surprise that a holiday with pagan origins would retain many of its pagan symbols?

The God of the Bible gave all of humanity perfectly acceptable festivals to keep (Lev 23).  They are the ones that have His stamp of approval.  It is due to the hard heartedness of mankind that they reject His holy days for manmade holidays.


  1. I think the 21st century phrase for this is "buyer's remorse."

    If the Catholics are repenting (at least to some degree), I'm more inclined to applaud than point a finger. A pullback has to start somewhere.

  2. @Richard: Interesting point. The analogy of buyer's remorse seems apt, but is it really "repentance"? It appears to be more along the lines of indignation that a "Christian" holiday is being celebrated in a pagan manner, when the reality is that they stole the holiday from the pagans in the first place. If it were repentance, then it would seem more genuine if they admitted that Christmas and Easter had pagan origins and encouraged people to downplay those as well.

    IOW, repentance should admit of some wrongdoing on the part of the person repenting, no?

  3. It's too bad you've never experienced the beauty of All Saints' Day in Poland: it might change your perspective.

  4. @kingary: Some people consider pornography beautiful. Does that make it right?

    No, what's "bad" is that ever since Adam and Eve, mankind has taken it upon itself to determine right and wrong, good and evil, and has for the most part ignored God's perspective. Human beings have instead gone out on their own and created their own governments, their own societies and their own religions.

    Shouldn't the question be how does God view it? Dressing up evil in pageantry does not make it any less evil. God considers worshiping Him with pagan rituals an "abomination". Does not sound like He would think it beautiful!