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  • Naomi P. Cohen

This is Halloween!

Special holiday blog post! I decided to write this bonus blog post in light of some of the Halloween discussions on the social medias. Specifically, why are the big Christian holidays on dates that are also associated with pagan holidays? The answer is quite simple: the Catholic Church wanted to encourage conversion by allowing the cultures they were evangelizing to keep their holidays. That might sound overly simplistic, and perhaps it is, but as I have studied history I have read multiple primary sources that supported this answer. Vague, yes. Sorry. Don’t have time to delve into old text books to find these specific documents. This blog post isn’t going to go much in depth, but each point is researched. Let’s discuss a few celebrations.

Halloween. An innocent modern holiday where children dress up in costumes and go Trick or Treating. A lot of Christians condemn this holiday. Churches now have Harvest Festivals. That is laughable to me. Why? Halloween is very specifically a Christian holiday, and in my opinion Harvest Festival sounds more pagan than Halloween.

The holiday coincides with the dates of Samhain, a pagan celebration on November 1st. It was believed that on this night the boundary between the living and the dead weakened. Bonfires were lit. People wore costumes and left out food to ward off the spirits. In 609 A.D. Pope Boniface IV initiated a holiday to celebrate martyrs and saints: All Souls’ Day, or All-Hallowmas. Sound familiar? In 1000 A.D. the holiday was moved from May to the beginning of November to coincide with the Samhain festival. The manner of celebration remained much the same, since it still had an association with spirits. All-Hallows Eve morphed into the silly word Halloween and lives on in an equally silly and innocent form! Remember to leave out candy to ward off the hungry little ghosts every year!

Christmas. A thoroughly Christian holiday. The name is literally Christ Mass, after all. That is all very true, but the date of this holiday is highly questionable. One of the aspects of the Christmas story is the angels visiting the shepherds with their sheep. Shepherds would not have their sheep out grazing in the dead of winter.

So where does December 25th come from? It’s the birthday of the sun god Mithras, worshipped in the Roman Empire from the 1st to the 4th centuries A.D. It’s also around the winter solstice each year. Without an exact date for the birth of Christ, why not place it on a known holiday to get more converts? There’s some issues with that, but for this holiday the Christian celebration has thoroughly immersed the day so that the origins of the date aren’t well known. I’m not going into the issues of Santa and commercialism hijacking the holiday in more recent history.

Easter. Another holiday associated with candy. Of all three, this one is perhaps the most curious mix of pagan and Christian. Officially, it’s the celebration of Christ’s resurrection.

So what’s with the rabbits and eggs? And what does Easter mean? Those things are all connected. The spring equinox is associated throughout history with a goddess of fertility, going by different names in different cultures. You might have heard of Asherah in the Biblical accounts. Ishtar, pronounced like Easter, is another name. Venerable Bede wrote of an Anglo-Saxon goddess known as Eostre. Eggs and rabbits are symbols of fertility for obvious reasons. I’m not condemning Easter egg hunts or allowing children to have their candy, as long as we remember what the celebration is for. Science says we don’t have to rely on a pagan goddess for fertility.

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