Some folks we knew didn’t like Halloween. They said it was a heathen get-up but to us kids, it was one of the few ways we could collect some much wanted candy. The “trick-or-treat” was a handy tool and those who shut the door on us, we might just ‘soap their windows’ or hang toilet paper over their bushes. It was a community wide affair and we would make ourselves up in a weird way and if we were one of the fortunate kids we would wear a funny or horrible mask.
In the mail yesterday, I found some historic information that might help us all better understand the last day in October. I print it without personal approval or condemnation. Read it and be wise.
The word Halloween has its origin in the ancient church. It comes from the words, All Hallows’ Eve. November first, All Hallows day or All Saints’ Day, was a day of observance in honor of all the saints. In the 5th century B.C. in Celtic Ireland, summer officially ended on October 31st. The holiday was called Samhain (sah-ween), the Celtic new year. Legend states that on that day the disembodied spirit of those who died throughout the proceeding year would come back in search of living bodies to possess for the next year. It was believed to be their only hope for the afterlife. The people believed all laws of space and time were suspended during that era, allowing the spirit world to inter mingle with the living.
The custom of Halloween was brought to America in the 1840’s by Irish immigrants, fleeing their country’s potato famine. At that time the favorite pranks in New England included tipping over outhouses and unhinging fence gates. Although the term trick-or-treat first appeared in print around 1939. Its origins could be traced back over 2000 years. Among the Celts as well as the Chinese, Egyptians the Aztecs, it was thought that the spirit of the dead required food and drink. During the festival of Samhain, people left their best foods (ie. mutton legs, vegetables, eggs, poultry, honey, wine) outdoors for the saints to consume on their way to the netherworld. To supply spoiled food or nothing meant that the hungry and possibly irritated spirits might enter the house and help themselves.
Over the centuries, people began dressing as these creatures and performing antics in exchange for offering food and drink. This practice called ‘mumming‘ evolved into the custom of trick-or-treating.
It is thought the Jack o’ lantern custom came from Irish folklore. The tale is that a man named Jack (not me), who was notorious as a drunkard and trickster, fooled Satan into climbing a tree. Jack then carved an image of the cross in the tree’s trunk, trapping the devil up the tree. Jack made a deal with the devil, that if he would never tempt him again, he would promise to let him down from the tree. After Jack died, he was denied heaven because of his evil ways, and was also denied the access to hell because he had tricked the devil. Instead, the devil gave him a single ember (burning torch) to light his way through the frigid darkness. The ember was placed inside a hollowed out turnip to keep it glowing longer.
Originally the Irish used turnips as a Jack’s lantern, but when the immigrants came to America, they found that pumpkins were larger and more plentiful than turnips.”
If you believe all of this, I have a bridge I wane to sell to you in Boston. Believe it or not, it is interesting to read.
When Ann and I were making a trip around the world, speaking to audiences in 27 countries, we witnessed some customs and beliefs that were strange to us. They may in some way counter our custom of celebrating Halloween.
In Singapore, I was on the second floor speaking to a full house, and I looked out the window to a extremely large idol of Buddha. It was gold in color and a number of worshipers were gathered for a festival. They were coming to the front, bowing and placing large bowls and platters of food at the feet of the idol. This was food dedicated to loved ones who had died. This type of idol worship is completely unknown in America and it intrigued me.
You quietly chuckle and think, “dead folks can’t eat food.” That was my first reaction until I thought, we don’t take food to the cemetery, we take flowers, and the dead cannot eat they cannot smell either. Besides, they took the food home and ate it, we just leave the flowers there to wilt.
If I was born in that Island State (which by the way, would remind you of Houston, Philadelphia, or Atlanta), and all my life I bowed before a Buddha, it would seem perfectly natural to bow and worship at appropriate times and customs.
The apostle Paul encountered idolatry on his missionary tour. “Men of Athens. I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription, TO AN UNKNOWN GOD“. Now what you worship as something unknown I’m going to proclaim to you” (Acts 17:22-23). That day, for the first time, they heard of the resurrection of the Man called Jesus.