Please note, do not read this article if you object to any challenge to Christian traditions or beliefs, you may get upset.
Another Halloween over, hordes of kids complaining they have tummy ache from all the sweets. The last of the weekend of horror themed parties then we head into next week and get ready for the barrage of fireworks that celebrates the failure of Mr Fawkes to blow up parliament.
Now most years I see some representative of one church or another roll out and start making statements about reclaiming the holiday season or the festivals and returning them to a more Christian theme.
Problem is they were never anything to do with Christianity in the first place.
Brief history lesson. The Roman Republic / Empire, remember them, what did they ever do for us?
Something that was done across the newly conquered or absorbed kingdoms and lands that the Romans put their sandals on was to try and make the locals feel like they were part of the Empire.
Apart from anyone who fought against them, local leaders were left in power and Romanised, local temples were left intact and local deities were adopted into the Roman pantheon. Local customs and traditions were more or less left and Roman traditions and customs were introduced.
So the expanding Roman world became a mix of Roman and everyone else’s deities and customs.
As Christianity took over Europe it deliberately continued the policy used by the Roman Empire to include newly converted areas into the faith by adding local deities as Saints and by bringing local festivals into the faith by rewriting them. Local deities either became saints or were slowly replaced by saints that had the same aspects of worship.
For example Mars, who is best known as the Roman god of War was also the god of agricultural protection. Mars, called Martis in Latin, god of the crops and fields becomes Saint Martin (in the fields).
Same aspect of worship and almost the same name so the pagan followers of Mars in his aspect of protector of agriculture becomes followers of the Christian saint of the fields.
Samhain, the day of the dead, when the spirits of the departed walked the earth and could be communicated with.
A belief and festival that predated Christ (whenever he existed if he ever did) in Celtic and Gaelic lands.
This day also marked the end of the time of light and the sun and the beginning of the time of darkness as the Sun was weakened and the cold and night came. A point strongly linked to the day of the dead in many cultures as the transition between the time of plenty and the time of darkness where many died.
The same time of year also marked the last of the harvests and celebrations of the many deities of the tribes and lands. As a number of these deities were absorbed into Christianity as Saints or morphed into existing saints a single day of the saints was settled upon. This holy or hallowed day, all saints day, became a standard Christian festival rather than the mix of pagan deity worship bringing together hundreds of pagan and heathen festivals under a single Christian banner.
Since this day traditionally followed the celebration of the end of the harvests, the day before all Hallows day became Hallows eve or Halloween.
Trick or Treat. The origins of this one vary but I like the theory that it was the rewarding of service for the year. The men and women of the tribe or clan would come before their chief and would receive a gift or treat to celebrate their good work during the year and the harvest. Those who the chief considered to have done a poor job would be mocked before the tribe with the presentation of some token to mark the chieftain’s displeasure.
The costumes. A number of the pre Christian cultures believes that Samhain was the day when the veil between this world and the next was at its thinnest and the spirits of the dead could cross over and walk among the living. Many also believed that evil spirits could also cross over.
By dressing themselves as monsters and evil spirits the people hoped that the spirits would mistake them for other evil spirits and leave them alone until the night was over and the next sunrise banished the spirits back to the lands of the dead for another year.
Christmas, the Christ mass. Giving presents and feasting. Every year you hear the latest attempt to reclaim the festival and get rid of all that commercialism and pagan customs.
Nope. Nothing to do with Christianity.
The festival is a mixture of pagan celebrations which the Roman Catholics stole and turned into a Christian festival, as usual the reason was so that people continued to follow their own traditions while the Christians put a layer of their worship over the top.
As far as the birthday of Christ. Nothing to do with it.
To the northern tribes the feast of mid winter was a celebration of survival, a recognition of the mid point of winter where things would begin to get better (remember these come from a time when November to February was winter). It also marked the consumption of the last of the non preserved foods left over from the harvest. The arriving Scandinavians bought Jul, or Yule, their winter festival which added the Yule Log. Christmas trees and decorating them, more heathen and pagan nature worship from celebrations in the woodlands where holy trees would be decorated.
The fixed date of 25th December comes from Roman festivals. Saturnalias was the Roman mid winter festival which originally was held on December 17th, then it expanded to finally be a week long. The last day was then the 23rd, leaving a day of preparation before the 25th which was the Mithran festival of the birthday of their deity and also the birthday of Sol Invictus.
So a week long Pagan festival of debauchery and partying followed by the birthday of several interpretations of Pagan Sun worship was taken by the Christians during the late third century who overlaid Christian worship and ideas on top of the pagan festivals.
Even The holy day itself isn’t Christian. When you hear people going on about Sunday shop opening or Sunday being special to Christianity.
Nope, they stole that one as well.
Back to those rascally Romans. When the Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity he and the Romans at large continued to follow the traditions of pagan Rome. Sol Invictus, the Sun god was had a holy day each week, that day, the day of Sol, also known as Sun Day continued to be the day of rest and worship for the Romans.
The Christians, ahem, borrowed, the day as their holy day so Romans who went to worship on the traditional day found themselves doing so on the new holy day of the Christians. Over time as the pagans faded away and Christianity became the only religion Sunday continued as the day of rest and worship.
Every Christian festival is based on pagan or heathen festivals and are full of the icons and practices of those older forms of worship. From Christmas trees and Yule logs to easter eggs and rabbits Christian festivals are pagan through and through.
So next time you come across a Christian demanding that the festival return to its Christian origins.