The True Meaning of Halloween

The Halloween decorations went up after Labor Day.   We’d told the kids (who wanted to get them out in June) that they would have to wait for fall.   When they saw the first colored leaf they insisted we get out the lights, skeletons, cobwebs, spooky posters, spiders, etc.   We have more Halloween decorations than Christmas decorations, and our kids host an annual Halloween party.   This year will be the fourth one, and each year things get a bit more elaborate.

Yesterday we decorated outside for the party — the entry way, and then the back “haunted” woods, including a leaf-filled “dummy” wearing a mask in the playhouse.   Hopefully the weather will cooperate and the kids will be able to play outside.   Halloween is also gaining importance nationally as a holiday.   What once was primarily a night for kids to trick or treat and Wiccans to celebrate has become a national event.    So what is the true meaning of Halloween?

Just as Christmas is not just about Christianity and materialism, Halloween is not just about the occult and candy.   Indeed, just as secular folk celebrate Christmas in terms of peace, love and joy even if they do not share a belief in its religious origins, celebrating Halloween does not require one to believe in ghosts.  Just as Christmas means much more than the materialist excess of holiday spending, Halloween means more than just sugar highs and candy.   But while Christmas has a long track record of having meanings conveyed in cards, movies and songs, Halloween’s true meaning remains a bit unclear.  I’ll take a shot at defining it.

One thing clearly associated with Halloween is spookiness. Scary movies, haunted houses (in Farmington there is both a haunted barn which really spooked the kids, and a corn maze that is haunted on Halloween weekend), and the Simpsons’ annual “Tree House of Horror” attest to that.   Yet it is not really a celebration of fear.   The goal is fun, an enjoyment of confronting something “scary” and laughing about it.    So to me Halloween is about play and the power of imagination.

Imagination inspires costumes, spooky stories, and haunted houses.   We imagine ghosts, ghouls and witches; even my four year old will roll his eyes up and don a blank face with arms outstretched to become a zombie.   Imagination is fun, the limits of the real are dispensed with, as are concerns about what would really happen if creatures could suck our blood and turn us into vampires.     Imagination is play, and Halloween is the ultimate play holiday.   We are all playing, creating scenarios and pretending to believe in all sorts of creatures and story lines.

Halloween is also a very social holiday.   In Farmington the streets are crowded with ‘Trick or Treaters,’ and is truly a community affair.  People put up lavish decorations or props to make things fun for the kids, and at the very least most people have candy to hand out.   If Christmas is more about family, Halloween is about community.     People rarely go door to door any more, visits are planned, and if you want to see someone on the spur of the moment you usually call first.   The days of just “stopping by” are long gone — but on Halloween nearly everyone’s door is open to provide children with a small gift.    It is a social event.

In our society people often lose perspective, driven to anxiety by an apparent contradiction: our lives are both unimportant and extremely meaningful.   No matter how serious things seem to be, in not too long we’ll all be gone and the things we obsess about will be forgotten.    Yet, even if nothing in life is permanent, life is all we have.    How do we reconcile those two facts?

Halloween reflects the answer: recognize the power of imagination and play, and the importance of social contact.    In the film “Life is Beautiful” the capacity of the hero to use imagination and play to make even a holocaust concentration camp more tolerable for a child attests to the importance of play.   No matter where we are or what we’re doing imagination can flourish and help us through, and a sense of play can add to the experience.   When things are bad, imagination can keep us sane by encouraging hope; when things are good, imagination is key to maximizing enjoyment.   Life as play helps us have the energy to act and achieve without succumbing to stress and anxiety.   Life as play is living with perspective.

So I embrace the true meaning of Halloween.  It reminds us to imagine, and to treat life playfully.   Living with perspective means not letting life’s annoyances and pitfalls cause too much anxious stress or depression.   Imagination is to our mental health what diet and exercise are to our physical health.   So happy Halloween!

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  1. #1 by Lee on October 25, 2010 - 6:38 pm

    Well you embrace Halloween for some great reasons, but actually Halloween comes down through the ages originally as the pagan tradition of Samhain. (I am a pagan UU so it is actually part of my faith tradition–but we love the fun and community of it too.) :-)

  2. #2 by Scott Erb on October 25, 2010 - 8:31 pm

    You’re right of course, Lee. But to be sure, Christmas is also originally a pagan celebration (early Christians positioned it to coincide with those celebrations so that people could convert and not lose their existing traditions).

  3. #3 by plainlyspoken on October 26, 2010 - 12:49 am

    Interesting take on Halloween. I am afraid though I don’t agree with it. I agree with Lee that it is a pagan tradition.

    Though since our family doesn’t believe in paganism, Halloween isn’t celebrated by us. I do hope all those who do celebrate it having a fun time doing so though.

  4. #4 by Scott Erb on October 26, 2010 - 1:31 am

    I guess my take on holidays is they are what you make them. I know people who are deeply offended by Columbus Day, but I figure it’s a great time to go enjoy autumn foliage. I’m neither pagan nor Christian, but find meaning in both Halloween and Christmas. But I don’t expect others to take it the same way.

  5. #5 by Jhose on October 27, 2010 - 12:34 pm

    We should really investigate the meaning of any holiday we celebrate, especially if we have kids. It is our responsibility to teach them and not just to follow any tradicion without knowing what it mean. Halloween has it origen in a pagan culture and it celebrate the death. Let’s be more conscious about what we do and celebrate!

  6. #6 by Scott Erb on October 27, 2010 - 2:20 pm

    Jhose – Even Christmas was originally a pagan holiday — but we have the power to imbue Holidays with the meanings we want them to have, and Halloween is for us a very important and fun holiday!

  7. #7 by kayla on October 4, 2011 - 11:50 pm

    i liked it very amzin g i will be teaching it to my class tonihght in canada enjoyed it

  8. #8 by Sheila on October 26, 2011 - 4:51 am

    Halloween

    Raiders News Halloween Special

    Be sure and check out the excellent links at to the right of this column.

    Knock, Knock, Knock….. You open the door and there stands one or more children standing in some sort of costume, highly excited and all screaming at the top of their lungs….”TRICK or TREAT”, with out knowing the meaning of what they are saying or doing.

    As an adult, do you know what Halloween represents? Most people are ignorant of what Halloween is all about and for that matter don’t care. I grew up trick or treating like most kids in America and never knew what it was all about. We even had a haunted house in the attic of the little country CHURCH I attended!!!! I was like most kids in the fact that all I wanted to do is get as much candy as I could and would do what I had to do to get it!! Including fighting with my brothers and sisters to be the first at the door….Every year I was the devil. I had the most evil, horrible, grotesque, rubber mask that was ever made. I had a pitchfork and my precious mother even sewed me a long pointed tail on my red suit.

    We all have stories to tell of Halloween, but do you really know what it is all about?? If all you know of it is what I have described above, you may want to read a little further and find out more info about what you are celebrating. Now if you are a pagan you know exactly what it is, if a Christian you are involved in something God forbids and if you just a “good ole boy or girl” you don’t care
    Witches after Halloween

    Harmless Fun?

    A Seductive Bridge Between Two Cultures

    Where did it begin?

    It began over 2000 yrs ago with people known as the Celtics. They lived in what is today England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. This was also the beginning of the Celtic new year, a time to give thanks to the sun god for the harvest.

    What is it all about?

    Halloween, All saints day, All hallows eve or All souls day is a festival. It was held to honor the Samhain the so called “lord of death”. It was a Druidical belief that on the eve of this festival Samhain, lord of death, called together the wicked spirits that within the past 12 months had been condemned to inhabit the bodies of animals.

    It was a pagan belief that on one night of the year the souls of the dead return to their original homes, there to be entertained with food. If food and shelter were not provided, these evil spirits would cast spells and cause havoc toward those failing to fulfill their requests.

    Sacrifices were offered on this night to the dead spirits because it was thought they visited their earthly dwellings and former friends.

    There was a prevailing belief among all nations that at death the souls of the good men were taken possession of by good spirits and carried to paradise; but the souls of the wicked men were left to wonder in the space between the earth and the moon, or consigned to the unseen world. These wandering spirits were in the habit of haunting the living…But there were means by which ghosts might be exorcised.

    To exorcise these ghosts, that is to free yourself from their evil sway, you would have to set out food and provide shelter for them during the night. If they were satisfied with your offerings, they would leave you in peace. If not, they were believed to cast an evil spell on you.

    In modern day Satanism and Witchcraft covens, this is the day when Satan himself comes to “fellowship” with his followers. Many changes have occurred over the centuries, but one thing ha stayed the same, the practice of giving an “offering” has stayed the same. Oh we do it under the name of fun but what is the real meaning? Is it still the same as in the old days? I say the answer is YES.

    The Christian Connection

    The celebration in the Roman Catholic Church, which was later to merge with Samhain, was known as All Saints’ Day. All Saints’ Day originated in the 7th century when the Pantheon at Rome was wrested from the barbarians, made into a cathedral, and renamed the Church of the Blessed Virgin and All Martyrs. Thus, from honoring “all gods” (which is the meaning of the Greek word “pantheon”) the Pantheon became the center for glorifying all saints.

    This day that honored all the “hallowed” saints was first observed on the evening of May 13, and was known as the All hallows festival. The day was officially authorized in 835 by Pope Gregory IV after it was moved to November 1 to coincide with Samhain. It began on the evening of October 31, which was called All Hallows Eve.

    Thus, without forcing the pagans to drop their pagan practices and accept Christianity, the Roman Catholic church merely made room to accommodate the barbarians.

    Just as it confiscated the pagan Pantheon for its own uses, this church incorporated the customs of Samhain to further its mission to convert the known world to Catholicism.

    The two celebrations made strange bedfellows: one in respect of evil spirits, the other honoring “saints.”

    Nevertheless, the joining of the two celebrations produced a hybrid of beliefs about what was supposed to happen in the spirit world. Souls in purgatory appeared as witches and toads to persons who had wronged them. Halloween fires took on a new meaning and now were used to comfort souls in purgatory as people prayed while holding burning straw in the air.

    Even the idea of trick-or-treating by evil spirits took on an acceptable church flavor: costumed children went around on All Souls Day offering to fast for the departed souls in return for money or an offering.

    As the Celts converted to the new religion, they did not forget their stories of the dead traveling to the afterworld on Halloween. Rather, exhibitions of this night became more evil and the observance adopted even more malicious overtones.

    Where do Witches, Black cats and Jack-O-Lanterns fit in?

    In America it’s a pumpkin, but in Europe it was often a turnip, large beet, potato, rutabaga or even a skull with a candle in it. The fearsome face of the jack-o-lantern was representative of the god of the dead, Shamin, who would drive off less powerful evil spirits abroad that night. As glimmering lights flickered over an English marsh or an Irish bog, people imagined dead souls had returned to earth. They would place the jack-o-lantern on posts and in windows to ward off the spirits of the dead on Halloween.

    The word jack-o-Lantern is an abbreviation of “Jack of the Lantern.” Jack is another name for joker or Satan. In the Irish tale, a man named Jack was fond of playing tricks on the devil. Annoyed, the devil tossed Jack a burning coal from hell. With the coal in his “lantern” Jack was condemned to walk the earth forever searching for rest.

    The jack-o-lantern is a Halloween idol that keeps alive an ancient symbol of demonic superstition.

    Witches and Black Cats

    A pagan practice that was not eradicated upon the coming of Christianity was witchcraft. The word “witch” comes from the Anglo-Saxon Wicca, or “wise one.” Witches were thought to be possessors of magic.

    Witches, who worship the deities of nature, have living talismans or symbols through which they derive their dark powers. They invoke evil spirits to enter the bodies of their talismans. Some have dogs, owls, snakes or swine for their talismans, but the most common are cats.

    The broomstick is a symbol of the male organ, on which the witch mounts and leaps high around the fields to “teach” the crops how high to grow. The notion of flying witches relates to the fact that witches believed they could fly great distances to their feasts by smearing their bodies with ointments containing drugs. The drugs gave them psychedelic “trips” making them think they flew.

    Witchcraft is demonic worship in diametric opposition to the worship of the Heavenly Father Yahweh. Yahweh minces no words about it. He told Israel through Moses, “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live” (Ex. 22:18). He says in Deuteronomy 18:10, “There shall not be found among you any one that makes his son or his daughter to pass through the fire, or that uses divination, or an observer of times, or an enchanter, or a witch.”

    Cats have been closely associated with mystery religion from the Egyptians to the Norse. But the Celts had a particular fear of cats, believing they were humans who had been changed into feline form by evil powers. The black cat particularly was connected to demonic powers.

    Black cats are the chief idol of the goddess of Wicca, Diana. In legend, she turns into a black cat to commit incest with her brother, Lucifer. Eventually the Druids themselves came to be regarded as witches. Witch hunting during Halloween became almost a national pastime in the colonial years of our nation. But that was yesterday. Halloween is regarded as the high “Sabbath” for practicing witches today.

    Orange, black, and red, the devil’s colors, are the colors associated with Halloween. Black prefigures black magic and demonic influence. The black of night is when these forces of evil are busiest, using the cover of darkness for their sinister works.

    Skulls and Skeletons

    The skeleton is a form of the god of the dead, the witches’ “horned god.” The Dictionary of Satanism by Wade Baskin says this about skulls and skeletons under “skull worship”: “Skulls play an important role as sacred relics and as objects of worship among primitives. Among Polynesians and Melanesians, skulls of ancestors are worshiped in order to establish connections with the spirits of the dead. Like the head of Osiris in Egypt, the skulls of ancestors may also serve as tutelar deities. The head or its parts, each of which may stand for the whole, can be used as magical food or as a means of increasing the fertility of the soil.” Under “Skull,” the Dictionary of Lore and Legend says, “Symbol of death, often with crossed bones beneath.”

    Fire Rites

    Being that Halloween is a Celtic new year’s festival, many of its surviving rituals trace to the Celtic feast. The fire rite was practiced in many areas around the world on the night before the new year. The old fire was allowed to go out and a new one was kindled—usually a sacred fire from which the fires of the village were relit. The fires were thought to rejuvenate the waning sun and aid in banishing evil spirits. The Druids built hilltop fires to celebrate important festivals. Ghosts and witches feared fire, it was thought, and so fire became the best weapon against evil spirits. Witchcraft was punished by burning at the stake, fire being used as a means purification. The light that fires gave off was a sign of sacredness.

    Apple Bobbing

    Popular at Halloween parties is apple bobbing. It was a means of divination among the Druids and survives in cultures influenced by the Celts. Because the apple is also a common love charm, the practice of ducking for apples seems to have been associated with the selection of a lover. Apple bobbing was originally a fertility rite deriving from the Christmas observance, which was replete with various fertility rites.

    Is Halloween a TRICK or TREAT?

    Most absolutely a TRICK. As you can see from all the above the real meaning of Halloween has been watered down. It is Satan’s objective to get all to worship him. God tells us to not have any thing to do with this.

    Peter I 5:8 Be sober, be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking some one to devour.

    1Thessalonians 5:22 Abstain from all appearance of evil.

    1Timothy 4:1 Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of demons.

    If you are a professing Christian, you have no reason to be part of this holy day of Satan. Don’t use the old cop out “well every body does it”. No everybody is not doing it. God will hold you responsible for what you do this Halloween. Will you go ahead and participate in it? Or will you pass along the word and let someone know what the real meaning is.

    • #9 by Scott Erb on October 26, 2011 - 8:28 pm

      Gee, Sheila, a God that would punish someone for simply enjoying Halloween is not the kind of God I’d worship anyway. I think you take this far too seriously, and I’m sure that any God of love and understanding wouldn’t fixate on historical symbolism and get mad about such stuff. Such a God would be extremely petty and narrow minded. I suspect God is more upset that you consider God petty and narrow minded!

  9. #10 by Re Sammy on October 30, 2011 - 10:19 pm

    God said put no other god before me. So wit that being the case, why then should you celebrate a day that is so obviously dedicated to satan. Is it worth risking losing the grace of God to do so? Is it worth your selling your soul for a piece of candy? think about it. I totally believe that on this day we should praise God, and Jesus Christ in spirit and in truth. Stop with all the things that lead to death and start all the things that lead to everllasting life. Believe in Jesus. Accept Him as your personal Lord and Saviour so that you may live in Him. He is the only true way. This holloween, put away all the evil things, all the evil symbolism, and worship God Almighty.

    • #11 by Jeff Lees on October 31, 2011 - 8:12 am

      If God is so shallow as to damn my soul for eternity because I took my children out for a fun night of gathering candy and socializing with friends, then he is no just God, and worthy of no deference.

      • #12 by Re Sammy on October 31, 2011 - 10:10 pm

        Mr Jeff, comment #14 is also for you. please read it

  10. #13 by rejeannesammy on October 30, 2011 - 11:09 pm

    I totally disagree with Mr Erb.

  11. #14 by Scott Erb on October 31, 2011 - 2:53 pm

    Halloween is dedicated to fun and candy. We hosted our annual party with about 25 kids, some dressed as zombies, the grim reaper, pirates and the like. They had fun, went on a spooky hike in our back woods (where we had a fake cemetary), and in the play house there was a fog machine, a mechanical spider that dropped from the ceiling, and scary music. The parents had a party upstairs, mostly chatting over beer and great pot luck food brought (I also baked pizza for the kids). There was no evil symbolism in that, just lots of fun. No one honored Satan — though I did think of dressing up as Martin Luther since October 31, 1517 is when he launched the reformation. Some Roman Catholics may still consider Luther alongside the devil :-)

    I think people tend to create God in their own image, and project onto their concept of God their own traits and attitudes. I have to agree with Jeff that any God so petty as to be upset by kids having fun dressed as zombies could not truly be God. Again, thinking God would be that way is an insult to God.

    • #15 by Re Sammy on October 31, 2011 - 10:09 pm

      I’m really sorry for you. You need to read your bible seriously. Especially Exodus to Deuteronomy. In there you find what I am speaking of. God isnt petty. He is just and merciful, but he is also a jealous God. Its all about the meaning behind hwta you do. I believe if yoy sat down and thought about it from a spiritual point of view then and only then would you understand tteh error or your ways.

      • #16 by Scott Erb on November 1, 2011 - 12:03 am

        If God would really command genocide and war crimes, favor a brute who would order a man to his death so he could have sex with his wife (King David), and get vain and jealous, then yeah, I’d join in a rebellion against him. Of course, such a God would not be a God of love, but a deceiver. If you believe God is like that, I suspect you’ve been deceived, you’re actually believing in Satan! He’s fooled you, Sammy, you’ve gone over to the dark side! Have a happy Halloween!

        Seriously, just maybe you should reflect that religious books are written by humans, translated and passed down, and reflect human myths and stories as well as spiritual truth. The Bible is riddled with contradictions and translation controversies. The creation story is two myths combined. You can tell — in one man and woman are made at the same time, and God is part of a group of beings — the collective ‘let us make them in our image’ is used. In the other the woman is made from Adam’s rib. Scholars have found that the myths represent different creation stories believed in Judea on the one hand, and the rest of Israel on the other. When David united Israel, the two myths were combined as part of that unification.

        Use the mind God gave you to think through the issues and make judgments not out of mindless acceptance of a book as completely true or of petty rituals and actions. Instead look at the deeper spiritual truths and meanings, things that transcend whether or not one believes Jesus died for our sins, or that Muhammad recited the word of God. Because ultimately any God that would damn someone for simply not believing a particular story even if they lived with love and efforts to do right would be a God worthy of our scorn and contempt. I would have more love and forgiveness than such a God. And I know that any God out there is far greater than I am, and beyond my comprehension. You’re being fooled by past ancient ritualistic belief. Think about it.

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