The Christian, Pagan, or Secular Influences on Halloween

The Connections Between Religions and Halloween

Halloween is celebrated every October 31 by millions of people throughout the world. It's a fun holiday filled with costumes, candy, and parties, but many people would like to know it's origin. Quite often, in the question of faith, the question is whether Halloween is secular, Christian, or Pagan.

The most straightforward answer is that Halloween is "secular." People who celebrate this day in a religious context generally do not call it Halloween. Also, the common practices associated with Halloween such as costuming and giving of treats are secular celebrations. Jack-o-lanterns themselves came to us through folklore.

Christian Origins: All Hallows Eve and All Saints Day

The reason we celebrate Halloween on October 31 is that it evolved out of a Catholic holiday called All Hallows Eve. It was a night of feasting that occurred the day before All Saints Day, a general celebration of the saints which comes on November 1.

In turn, All Saints Day was originally celebrated on May 13. In the Orthodox Church, it continues to be celebrated in late spring on the first Sunday after Pentecost, which is seven weeks after Easter Sunday.

Pope Gregory III (731-741) is commonly credited with moving the holiday to November 1. The reasons for the move are debated. Yet, All Saints Day was not extended to the entire Church worldwide until the 9th century by decree of Pope Gregory IV (827-844). Prior to this, it was restricted to Rome.

Ancient Celtic Origins: Samhain

One of the most common arguments is often posed by neo-pagans and Christians who are against Halloween celebrations. These claims say that All Saints Day was moved to November 1 to co-opt a Celtic Irish celebration called Samhain. ​

Samhain involved dressing up as evil spirits and it was also meant as a celebration of the year's harvest. Hungry children in the Middle Ages added the twist of begging for food and money, which we know of today as trick-or-treating.

Did the Catholic Church Co-opt Samhain?

There is no direct evidence to say that the Catholic Church intended to redirect the intention of the day away from Samhain. Gregory's reasons for moving it from May 13 to November 1 remain a mystery. A 12th-century writer suggested it was because Rome could support larger numbers of pilgrims in November than in May.

Moreover, Ireland is a long way from Rome, and Ireland had long been Christianized by the time of Gregory. So the logic of changing a feast day throughout Europe to co-opt a holiday originally celebrated in a small portion of it has some substantial weaknesses.

Halloween Around the World

The Protestant church, too, has opposed Halloween celebrations in various areas around the world.

However, even in countries with little to no Christian heritage, Halloween is steadily becoming more popular. It is riding not on any religious associations, but, quite simply, its powerful presence in North American pop culture.

Reflecting that global reach of pop culture, the costumes have also moved away from their religious and supernatural roots. Today, Halloween costumes embrace everything from cartoon characters, celebrities, and even social commentary.

In a sense, we might conclude that even if Halloween began with a religious intention, it is completely secular today. 

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Your Citation
Beyer, Catherine. "The Christian, Pagan, or Secular Influences on Halloween." Learn Religions, Jan. 28, 2020, Beyer, Catherine. (2020, January 28). The Christian, Pagan, or Secular Influences on Halloween. Retrieved from Beyer, Catherine. "The Christian, Pagan, or Secular Influences on Halloween." Learn Religions. (accessed April 1, 2023).