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What Are the Pagan Roots of Halloween and Why Should We Care?

Dr. Julie Barrier

What is the origin of Halloween? According to this article, many believe it began with the ‘Summer’s End’ festival, or Samhain celebrated 2,000 years ago as the beginning of the Celtic year. During this festival time, Celtic farmers brought livestock in for the winter and harvested their crops. They sacrificed fruits of the harvest and the best of their flocks to appease pagan gods.

Celts Believed the Dead Could Walk on October 31

Celtic legends taught that fairies cast spells and the dead walked among the living during Samhain. On October 31, these ancient Northern Europeans believed they could visit the dead and discover their future from immortal spirits.

The Celts were highly superstitious and thought these evil spirits could damage crops, possess the living, and spread incurable sickness. That’s why they dressed up in scary costumes and animal hides while hovering in fear around bonfires.

Pagan Roots of Popular Halloween Traditions

Trick-or-Treating also began during Samhain. The tradition was an ancient custom of “souling.” The poor would go from house to house to beg for soul cakes. In return for the “soul cakes” the beggars would pray for family members who had recently died. Soul cakes were round loaves of bread filled with currants.

Pumpkins and Jack-o-Lanterns were also part of Celtic lore. A tale was told that a drunken farmer named Stingy Jack was so wicked that when he died, he restlessly wandered between heaven and hell, unable to enter either one. As he roamed the darkness, he hollowed out a turnip and placed a burning coal inside to light his way.

Celts carved “Jack-o-Lanterns” to guide lost souls home on the eve of Samhain.

Bobbing for apples also has mythical roots. The Celts believed that the practice used to be considered a form of divination. According to NPR, bobbing for apples was a practice where people would dunk their heads in a vat of water and try to bite into floating fruit in a quest to figure out their future spouse. Ladies would mark an apple and toss it into the tub. The thinking was they’d be destined to whoever pulled it out of the water.

In 800 A.D., the Catholic church moved “All Saint’s Day” from Spring to November 1. Hallow’s Mass is November 1, and All Saint’s Day is November 2.

One would think this Catholic celebration would be an opportunity to Christianize Halloween, but it is not. 

Author Scott P. Richert, content manager for Sunday Visitor, the largest Catholic publishing company, writes that the purpose of All Souls Day is to pray people out of purgatory by prayer, almsgiving, and the Mass. But purgatory, and praying people out of purgatory is an anti-biblical practice.

How Should Christians Handle Halloween?

First, I believe it is the choice of the Christian parent to allow or disallow children to participate in the festivities. If the children are old enough to understand, I think it’s appropriate to explain the pagan roots of Halloween. It’s a great opportunity to teach what the Bible says about the finality of death, the promise of heaven through Jesus, and the hope of resurrection.

Churches can use Halloween as a time to build community, to show compassion and to share the message of Christ. Our church celebrates “Boogers and Halloweenies,” where communities in our area hold cookouts and free food for neighbors, while sharing the Good News of Christ.

Many churches around the country have harvest festivals or other events to provide a safe place for families to celebrate.

Communities need to know that Christians are not isolationists. They can welcome trick-or-treaters with ‘Snickers’ and a smile.

Halloween, however, should not be celebrated in ignorance. We need to teach its origins and contrast it with biblical truth.

What Do Our Children Need to Know?

God loves us and sent His Son Jesus to die in our place. When we place our faith in Christ’s death and resurrection, our sins are forgiven and our home is heaven. Death is final. Eternity is real. Jesus is victorious over evil. We can stand secure and unafraid!


headshot of author Dr. Julie BarrierDr. Julie Barrier, along with her pastor-husband, Dr. Roger Barrier, have taught conferences on marriage and ministry in 35 countries. The Barriers are founders and directors of Preach It, Teach It, providing free resources in 10 languages to 5 million visitors in 229 countries. The Barriers pastored 35 years at Casas Church in Arizona, Julie has served as a worship minister, concert artist and adjunct professor at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary. She has authored or composed of over 500 published works.

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