Halloween: sugar-filled revelry or religious ritual?

By Elizabeth TenetyWhy do Americans love Halloween? Halloween, as religion reporters like to remind readers every October 31st, is an … Continued

By Elizabeth Tenety

Why do Americans love Halloween?

Halloween, as religion reporters like to remind readers every October 31st, is an ancient celebration with pagan roots.

Christians adapted the Celtic holiday of dressing up in costume to drive out evil spirits before the Nov 1st celebration of ‘All Saints Day.’ Many Latin American cultures also celebrate the Day of the Dead at the same time. The modern adaptation of the holiday is more sugar-filled revelry than religious ritual, but the celebration’s morbid overtones remain intact.

Does America’s embrace of Halloween reflect our fascination with death or our fear of it?

The weeks around Halloween are also when Hollywood decides it is time for moviegoers to ponder their mortality. So if you want to get scared to death this weekend, head to theaters to watch Saw 3D (the only thing better than death by buzz saws must be death by buzz saws -in 3D!), Paranormal Activity 2, or Hereafter, Clint Eastwood’s recent life-after-death drama staring Matt Damon as a medium.

Movies about mortality may appeal to viewers, but they impact the actors, too. In a People interview about Hereafter, Damon said that his meditations on the afterlife affect his life on earth:

“I think what’s important for kids to know is that your decisions here on earth matter, your behavior matters, and how you treat other people matters. It matters here and I’m hoping that it matters in the afterlife, too. It just comes down to accountability for your own behavior that’s important. So whenever I talk to my own kids or whenever they ask, I try and put the hereafter in kind of an ethical framework.”

A Baltimore-based NASA scientist and real life psychic medium Rob Gutro told the Washington Post this week “We’re all at different levels of understanding what life is about and what happens afterward.”


Do you believe in life after death? Why, or why not? How do your beliefs about the afterlife impact your behavior in the here and now?

Read more On Faith about Halloween:

In previous years, On Faith has asked its panelists: “Is Halloween harmless fun, devil worship or a time for spiritual reflection?” What do you think?

For just a taste of the varying opinions on the holiday, check out what Catholic Priest Tom Reese, atheist author Susan Jacoby, Evangelical minister Chuck Colson and Wiccan leader Starhawk have to say.

Elizabeth Tenety
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  • joe_allen_doty

    Believers in Jesus should not adopt nor adapt pagan religious customs. I majored in Spanish in college and even taught the subject. I found out that the natives of Mexico made the priests/fathers of the Spanish Roman Catholic Church believe that they had become “Christian” when they merely publicly substituted the names of their gods and goddesses with the names of Roman Catholic Saints.

  • watchmaker

    Joe_Allen_Doty: Why do you suppose that happened? Perhaps when a conquering army with overwhelming military superiority almost completely destroys your civilization you too might consider pretending to convert to their religion, especially if the alternative is summary execution.Then you can ask yourself why a “Pagan” Celtic solstice holiday was co-opted to become Christmas, and an equally “Pagan” fertility holiday became Easter.But by all means, if you do not like Hallowe’en, don’t celebrate it!

  • ThishowIseeit

    Before was known that major epileptic seizures were a disease, people assumed that an evil spirit had entered the sick person. Seizures almost always terminate after 8 to 15 minutes spontaneously, so the last person that “ordered” the spirit to leave ( no intended reference to a story in the Gospels) was considered with supernatural power.. Epilepsy was very common in ancient times due to brain traumas during or after birth. So why not dress up scary to scare away evil spirits.

  • darkglobe5

    It makes kids happy. Really happy. It’s not about death, it’s about fun, dress-up, community. We all know what its origins are. No need to analyze it.

  • joe_allen_doty

    In a properly translated form the Greek Text New Testament English Bible or NT, there is no word that can be translated as “Easter.” For some stupid reason, the KJV Bible translators used “Easter” as the translation of “Pascha” (the transliterated Greek word) which literally means “Passover.” See Acts 12, especially verse 4. I don’t celebrate Easter; I celebrate “Resurrection Day” instead.

  • DwightCollins

    we love holloween so that we can subsitute make believe monsters for the ones in the white house that make our lives dificult…

  • ravitchn

    Holloween is All Hallow’s Eve, a reminder to celebrate All Saints Day by attending MASS.Here in the deep South it has been pushed up to Saturday, today, so as not to offend the Calvinists who like to celebrate a boring Sunday in Puritan fashion

  • andrew23boyle

    Every culture that I can think of has some sort of “dress up” holiday. I think it speaks to a deep psychological need for self-escape in many people.Also, candy is good and it’s fun as hell!

  • lepidopteryx

    Halloween for non-Pagans is like Christmas for non-Christians. Those who don’t celebrate it as a religious holiday still enjoy the secular aspects of it. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

  • Sajanas

    For a holiday that is not a day off, can fall at any time of the week, and involves quite a bit of prep and work, Halloween is still far, far more fun than any of the other holidays. While people like scary things for costumes, I see just as many people dressed as Vader, Mario, or Astronauts. Its a celebration where every year, we can celebrate something that we find cool and fun, and kids can get free candy. People get angsty that it is not Christian don’t have to participate, but understand this, when you don’t like Halloween, you come off just as obnoxious as those people who want no public displays of Christmas.

  • schnauzer21

    Posted by: joe_allen_doty “Believers in Jesus should not adopt nor adapt pagan religious customs.”Not to mention that halloween is a mash up of “all Hallows Eve” as in the day before all saints day, a christian joliday. Banning halloween would be like banning Christmas Eve and the parties that are held then.