>The Origins of Halloween and the Christian Response

>Have you ever wondered where the holiday “Halloween” came from? Did you know that this holiday has origins both in Pre-Christian paganism and the Roman Catholic Church calendar? Did you know that the Protestant Reformation began on October 31st almost 500 years ago? As a Christian, it is important to understand the origins of this holiday and to place it in proper perspective. Therefore, this post will help to provide a Christian perspective to this interesting holiday.

Pre-Christian Pagan Origins

Halloween is originally based on the pagan
Gaelic festival entitled, Samhain (pronounced: sa:win). This was a harvest festival based on ancient Celtic polytheism. Samhain marked the end of the harvest, ending the “lighter half” of the year and beginning the “darker half”. Some scholars believe that this festival was the beginning of the Celtic new year. Samhain in many ways resembles a festival of the dead; because during this celebration, the Gaelic people believed that participants could commune with those in the spirit world. In fact, the border between this world and the Spirit world became so thin during this celebration that they believed some would be caught up in the spirit world. The Gaelics had the custom of marking this festival by setting off many bonfires and wearing costumes and masks in an attempt to copy the spirits and placate them.


Association

with the Catholic Christian Calendar

The Catholic Church during its spread throughout the Roman Empire after Christianity became legal in the 4th Century had the practice of “Christianizing” pagan holidays so that Christianity would be more palatable to pagans. Thus, the Roman Catholic Church took the Roman festival of Lemuria and changed it into what is called “All Saints Day”. Lemuria was a feast in the religion of ancient Rome during which Romans performed rites to exorcise the malevolent and fearful ghosts of the dead from their homes. This festival of the dead was celebrated around May 13th and became the Catholic All Saints’ Day (which is still celebrated by Catholics today). This new “Christianized” holiday All Saints’ Day commemorates all those who have attained the “beatific vision of Heaven.” In other words it commemorates all of those who have made it out of purgatory into paradise. You can tell why this is a Catholic holiday. In the 8th Century, All Saint’s Day was moved from May 13th on the Catholic Calendar to November 1 to coincide with the Gaelic festival of Sawhain (thus attempting to Christianize this festival as well – a Catholic version of killing two birds with one stone). Another holiday was then added on November 2nd entitled All Souls’ Day, which is a day set aside by Catholics to pray for the faithful departed who are still consigned to Purgatory to pay for their venial sins. Thus, Catholics pray for their departed loved ones in a hope that they may assist in bringing them out of purgatory into heaven. Another name for All Saints’ Day (on November 1) is All Hallows’ Day (Hallow = Saint). Then, October 31st became known as All Hallow’s Eve, which was then shortened to Hallow-even, thus Hallowe’en. Many of the pre-Christian pagan festivities were retained and celebrated during this Hallow’s Eve day in, but then the Christian (Catholic) celebration was observed on the following two days.


October 31 and the Protestant Reformation

For Protestants, however, this day takes on a more unique significance. On October 31st, 1517, Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany, sparking the Protestant Reformation. Ironically, Luther’s main concern in his 95 Theses was the use of indulgences (coin / money offerings given to the church) to bring loved ones out of purgatory. This, of course, is similar thinking to the concept of All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day. John Tetzel, the great Indulgence Salesman who prompted Luther’s 95 Theses, was famous for saying, “Once a coin in the coffer rings, a soul from Purgatory springs.” Due to the newly invented printing press, the nailed “95 Theses” was quickly printed and distributed throughout Germany and brought Luther into the radar of the Catholic Church. When Luther did not back down, he was asked to defend himself at the Diet of Worms in April of 1521, where he would not recant and only escaped death due to the protection provided by Prince Frederick and his exile to Wartburg Castle. Because Martin Luther sparked the Protestant Reformation on October 31st, 1517, many Protestants celebrate this day each year as “Reformation Day”. It is a day of remembrance (officially celebrated mainly by Lutherans) held usually on the Sunday before October 31st. However, many other Protestant (including Evangelical) denominations have recently started seeing Reformation Day as a good alternative to Halloween.

Halloween Today

Halloween today has become largely a “secular” holiday that includes some seemingly innocent traditions as dressing up in costumes, trick-or-treating, jack-o-lanterns, fall festivals, bobbing for apples, haunted houses, and the like. However, the commercialization and increase in the TV media of the holiday has made Halloween a big business (sales each year average around $6 Billion). Cable-TV channels usually have special programming during the month of October leading up to the holiday that focuses on horror movies. Primetime drama and comedy programming on network television usually have Halloween themed shows. I realized the pervasiveness of this when just this evening I saw that the show Outsourced (an NBC comedy that follows an American who works as a manager in India for a call-center) had a Halloween based show tonight where there was a Halloween party in India. I need to research the practice of celebrating the holiday of Halloween in India.

An undercurrent of all these secular trends in Halloween is a fascination on death and ghoulish behavior. This fascination tends to do one of two things. It either tends to trivialize and mock death, thus taking the consequences and finality of death lightly, or it over-emphasizes and dwells too much on death making it overly gruesome and horrifying, feeding the secular (and non-Christian) fear of death. Another issue is that there is an abundance of occult and pagan practices that are either overtly practiced on this holiday or at least alluded to and toyed with. Neopaganism, although a small phenomenon, is making a comeback. Many are opting to go all the way back to the pagan roots and celebrate the pagan ritual of Samhain just as the Gaelics did over 1500 – 2000 years ago.

How should Christians deal with Halloween?

To say the least, a Christian response to the complex holiday of Halloween is tricky. The secular buy-in to this holiday is quite pervasive. Trick-or-treating and costume wearing is almost a community rite that is expected to include Christian participation. Christians (especially Evangelicals) have chosen to respond in various ways:

1. Total Refusal to Participate due to the tie-in to ancient paganism and the occult.
2. Further “Christianizing” through various ways:
a. Judgment Houses – where the church sponsors a haunted house that provides a glimpse into Heaven and Hell and is used as an evangelistic tool.
b. Fall Festivals: sponsored by churches to be a family friendly alternative (or addition to) trick-or-treating and is used as evangelistic opportunities.
c. Trunk or Treat – another evangelistic idea that ties into the tradition of trick-or-treating.
3. Deciding to celebrate Reformation Day instead of Halloween.
4. Playing along with the community in the holiday. Trick-or-treating with kids and handing out candy, but not going “all out”.
5. Full acceptance and enjoyment of the holiday.

What is the best response? First, every Christian parent should be aware of the origins of the holiday and the dangers of the occult and ghoulish overtones in Halloween. Secondly, Christians should support any evangelical work that their church decides to do on this holiday to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ and provide a family friendly atmosphere to enjoy the holiday. Thirdly, as a Baptist and a Protestant, I believe we should set aside this day to also remember the heritage of Martin Luther and the significance of Reformation Day, commemorating October 31, 1517. Finally, we need to take the opportunity that Halloween gives to us to teach our children and fellow Christians the proper, Christian perspective on death. Death is an enemy, but it has been defeated and vanquished, not by divination, the occult, or pagan rituals, but by Jesus Christ. It is His death on the cross and His resurrection three days later that conquered the sting and fear of death. As it says in I Corinthians 15:54-58, “Death has been swallowed up in victory. O Death, where is your victory? O Death, where is your sting? Now the sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ! Therefore, my dear brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the Lord’s work, knowing that our labor in the Lord is not in vain.”
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>Ever Wondered Why we Have a Valentine’s Day?

>Have you ever wondered why there is a Valentine’s Day? I thought I would share the Wikipedia article on the origins of Valentine’s Day. As you can see, there is little about “romantic love” that is associated with the founding of the holiday. It is all about Christianity and honoring martyred saints of the Roman Catholic Church. Food for thought.

Numerous early Christian martyrs were named Valentine. The Valentines honored on February 14 are Valentine of Rome (Valentinus presb. m. Romae) and Valentine of Terni (Valentinus ep. Interamnensis m. Romae). Valentine of Rome was a priest in Rome who was martyred about AD 269 and was buried on the Via Flaminia. His relics are at the Church of Saint Praxed in Rome, and at Whitefriar Street Carmelite Church in Dublin, Ireland.

Valentine of Terni became bishop of Interamna (modern Terni) about AD 197 and is said to have been martyred during the persecution under Emperor Aurelian. He is also buried on the Via Flaminia, but in a different location than Valentine of Rome. His relics are at the Basilica of Saint Valentine in Terni (Basilica di San Valentino).

The Catholic Encyclopedia also speaks of a third saint named Valentine who was mentioned in early martyrologies under date of February 14. He was martyred in Africa with a number of companions, but nothing more is known about him.

No romantic elements are present in the original early medieval biographies of either of these martyrs. By the time a Saint Valentine became linked to romance in the fourteenth century, distinctions between Valentine of Rome and Valentine of Terni were utterly lost.

In the 1969 revision of the Roman Catholic Calendar of Saints, the feastday of Saint Valentine on February 14 was removed from the General Roman Calendar and relegated to particular (local or even national) calendars for the following reason: “Though the memorial of Saint Valentine is ancient, it is left to particular calendars, since, apart from his name, nothing is known of Saint Valentine except that he was buried on the Via Flaminia on February 14.” The feast day is still celebrated in Malta where relics of the saint are claimed to be found, and also throughout the world by Traditionalist Catholics who follow the older, pre-Vatican II calendar.

The Early Medieva acta of either Saint Valentine were excerpted by Bede and briefly expounded in Legenda Aurea. According to that version, St Valentine was persecuted as a Christian and interrogated by Roman Emperor Claudius II in person. Claudius was impressed by Valentine and had a discussion with him, attempting to get him to convert to Roman paganism in order to save his life. Valentine refused and tried to convert Claudius to Christianity instead. Because of this, he was executed. Before his execution, he is reported to have performed a miracle by healing the blind daughter of his jailer.

Legenda Aurea still providing no connections whatsoever with sentimental love, appropriate lore has been embroidered in modern times to portray Valentine as a priest who refused an unattested law attributed to Roman Emperor Claudius II, allegedly ordering that young men remain single. The Emperor supposedly did this to grow his army, believing that married men did not make for good soldiers. The priest Valentine, however, secretly performed marriage ceremonies for young men. When Claudius found out about this, he had Valentine arrested and thrown in jail. In an embellishment to The Golden Legend provided by American Greetings, Inc. to History.com and widely repeated, on the evening before Valentine was to be executed, he wrote the first “valentine” himself, addressed to a young girl variously identified as his beloved, as the jailer’s daughter whom he had befriended and healed, or both. It was a note that read “From your Valentine.”

>Looking ahead to the Southern Baptist Convention

>

I start off this week looking ahead to a very busy couple of days. I have to wrap everything up so that Bonnie and I can go to Louisville, KY on Friday to attend the Southern Baptist Convention. This week I am spending my free time reading and preparing for the class that I will take at Southern Seminary in conjunction with the annual meeting. Here are the books that I am reading:

Baptist Reformation by Jerry Sutton

Baptists and the Bible by Russ Bush and Tom Nettles

Uneasy in Babylon by Barry Hankins

A Hill on Which to Die by Judge Paul Pressler

The class, based on my reading and the required texts, appears to be a study on the Conservative Resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention, which began in 1979. Interestingly, this year’s annual meeting marks the 30th Anniversary of the 1979 SBC Annual Meeting in Houston, TX where Dr. Adrian Rogers was elected as president of the convention and marked the first time a conservative, inerrantist was elected to the Presidency. From that point to the present day, all of the elected presidents have held to the authority of Scripture.

I have just finished reading the Baptist Reformation and have been exposed to the details of the reason for the Conservative Resurgence and the truth surrounding the opposition espoused by the moderates and liberals of the convention. To say the least, reading that book has been eye-opening. I am in the process of reading the Baptists and the Bible, which is another great read. The thesis of this book is that Baptist history tells us that Baptists – from John Smyth and Roger Williams all the way to Herschel Hobbs – have believed in the full authority, trustworthiness, infallibility, and inerrancy of Scripture. It is only through the influence of the modernist theological movement with an emphasis on higher criticism in the mid-late 19th Century that influenced many Protestant theologians (including Southern Baptists) to move away from a high view of Scripture. This has given me confidence and pride to know that Baptists have been traditionally a Bible believing faith. In this regard, the Conservative Resurgence was a needed corrective against the modernist tide.

Another milestone that Bonnie and I will get to participate in is the 150th Anniversary of the founding of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, of which I am a student. I am proud to be a student at a seminary that has reclaimed its heritage as a bastion of conservative theological convictions. Under the leadership of Dr. R. Albert Mohler, the school has become one of the flagship seminaries in the United States, if not the world. It will be enjoyable to finally listen and watch in person speeches and comments made by Mohler and other faculty that I respect at this event.

I am enjoying my reading and looking forward to the next few days in studying the Southern Baptist Convention and witnessing it in action at the annual meeting.

>Back to writing…

>I apologize for the absence on the blog. Please understand that I have been extremely busy since the first of May that has caused me to set my blog article writing on the top shelf and not pick it up again until today. Here is what I have been up to:

1. Finished up my Spring Semester at Southern Seminary by the middle of May. Had to write a paper for Missiology that I finished on May 10th, 2009.
2. Went to the Rotary District Conference in Franklin, TN on May 15-16th, 2009. Had a great time. The best thing about that event is that I am almost done with my year as Rotary President. I hand over the reins with pleasure to Todd Hampton on July 2, 2009 (only three weeks from today – 06/11/2009)!
3. When I got back from the Rotary District Conference I had two weeks to read four books for the History of the Baptists class. Plus, I had to start working on study guide worksheets for the class on these four books. The questions alone took up 15 pages! So, I had to plug away for two weeks trying to get through that in preparation for the class. All of my free time went to this project.
4. The class itself for History of the Baptists went from June 1 – June 5th, 2009 at Southern Seminary in Louisville, KY. I absoloutely loved the class. History is my favorite subject and learning about the heritage and legacy of the Baptist movement from 1608 to the present day was fascinating! Tough class though. Lot of hard work. I just finished the worksheets and mailed them in on June 9th, 2009 (Tuesday). I might write some blog posts about some of the most influential Baptists in our history from time to time.
5. Yesterday, I had the privilege of preaching at church during the Wednesday night prayer service. I preached on I John 2:28 – 3:3 continuing the exposition through the epistle. Our main discussion last night was on the subject of being confident that you are a child of God. I truly enjoyed studying that passage of scripture!

That brings me to today. I am in the midst of trying to get caught up with all the other aspects of my life that I had to put on hold to complete the History of the Baptists class, and therefore, I am starting up my blog writing again. It is good to be back!