Here it comes again, that time of year. Time to put out the cobwebs, stuff sheets and hang them from tree branches and prop up gravestones in the yard. Halloween is a favorite holiday for many people inspiring scary costumes and creative ones alike. But is Halloween religious? According to one school in Pennsylvania it has religious over-tones and has thereby been cancelled this year.
That’s right, Halloween is cancelled for students attending Inglewood Elementary School in Towamencin Township, Pennsylvania. No Halloween parties, no carnivals, no costumes, nothing. Due to the supposed religious implications, school will not be celebrating this ghoulish holiday this year. Are they right? What does Halloween actually mean?
In times past, the Celtic tradition celebrated this time of year and called its name Samhain meaning “summer’s end,” recognizing it as a time when the veil between worlds was thinnest. The date was originally November the 2nd and the day before was celebrated as “All Souls Day” and eventually “Hallow’s Eve.” Because of its placement between the fall and winter season, the energy of this time was thought to invite one into deeper contemplation of death and those who have died, or passed on. The Pagan tradition looks at the time leading up to the winter solstice as symbolic of a death of sorts – a passage from the light of consciousness into the dark of the soul.
The Druids who celebrated Halloween would light giant bonfires in attempts to keep away any “evil” or unkind spirits, while at the same time leaving open the doors to their homes welcoming friendly spirits to join them. Samhain was thought to be the most important festival of the year when ghosts were able to mingle with the living, giving one a sense of connection between all the realms. At this time was celebration of the harvest and preparation for the winter when the light would become the most dim.
How did Samhain become Halloween? Christianity stepped in when proselytizing and attempted to change the practices of the pagans to something more “appropriate.” Pope Gregory the first back in 601 AD instructed his missionaries to allow the pagan people to keep worshiping as they may, but instead, to change their holiday to one of a more Christian nature. Druid priests and priestesses were the equivalent of the Christian priest, but unfortunately the Christian church chose to demonize them and dress their newly made “devil” in the cloak of a Druid holy man.
Suddenly, the Grim Reaper, who came to claim souls, looked like the Druid priest so people would fear him. All pagan holidays, such as Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox were likewise branded as Christian holidays and changed to the liking of the church.
So, it seems, that in many ways, Halloween does gain its origins from religion, or at least spirituality. The way Halloween is celebrated today, however, is a far cry from the original expression and meaning of the day. It is really a bit of a stretch to call Halloween religious while teachers pass out colored candy and kids dress as dinosaurs and Iron Man. It’s not really what the Druid priests were up to, for sure. Is it ethically correct to ban Halloween from an elementary school due to the true origins of a holiday that are not even remotely being expressed today? Is Halloween religious? By this same theory it would be appropriate to ban Christmas and Easter as well. We’ll see how far the school systems will go. Happy Holidays!
Written by: Stasia Bliss