This week on Halloween, millions of American families will carve pumpkins, and children will don costumes to go from house to house asking for candy. And, in many churches and communities, families will participate in solemn religious ceremonies, or will stay up playing games. The history of Halloween has its roots with the early days of Christianity, and possibly before.
Under the Roman Empire, early Christians faced great persecution for believing in Christ and for not following the Roman religion. Romans tortured and murdered Christians throughout the first three centuries. Then, in A.D. 313, Roman Emperor Constantine legalized Christianity, and in 380, Emperor Theodosius I declared Catholic Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire. The persecution in the Roman Empire stopped, but Christians throughout the world still faced danger and death because of their belief.
Early Christians honored those who died for their faith and considered these martyrs saints. Churches were dedicated to a particular saint, or saints, and that dedication day, or consecration day, was celebrated each year. The Pantheon had been a Roman temple to all the gods, but in 609 Pope Boniface IV dedicated it to the saints and made May 13th a yearly celebration. Pope Gregory III (731-741) dedicated a chapel in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome to all the saints on November 1st. Later, in 835, Pope Gregory IV added this celebration of All Saints Day to the Church calendar for all Christians to celebrate.
The word Halloween comes from the initial celebration of All Saints Day. In early Christianity, Christians attended Holy Mass beginning the evening before the day. Thus, the celebration of Christmas begins on Christmas Eve. “Hallow” means “Holy” in Old English. All Hallow’s Eve (or Even) refers to the day before All Holy Day. Masses occurred one day before All Saint’s Day, in the evening. A blending of these three words (All Hallow’s Eve) gives us the word Halloween.
Pagan Influences or Origins?
Celebrating or honoring the dead was common among pagan peoples of the world, as well as marking the transition from one season to another. One challenging aspect in reporting about ancient pagan practices is the lack of primary sources. Most pagans were illiterate, and we have to rely on oral histories that are not as reliable or on accounts from observers.
Over 2,000 years ago, Celts lived in Central and Northwestern Europe and celebrated “Samhain.” Celts were pagans, people who believed in many gods. They believed that they could communicate with good and evil spirits. The Celts celebrated November 1st as the New Year. The night before was remembered as the end of fall, the end of harvest, and the end of the season where there were more hours of sunshine than dark. Samhain was the night when Celts believed the ghosts of the dead returned to earth, damaging farms, causing trouble and communicating with humans.
To honor the ghosts, Celts built huge bonfires, burned portions of their crops, and offered animal sacrifices. The Romans reported the Celts offered humans as sacrifices. The Druids were Celtic priests, in charge of the ceremonies. On the night of Samhain, Druids believed they could communicate with the dead, and told the fortunes of others. After the ceremony was finished, the Celts took fire from the bonfire and lit their hearth fires, believing their home would now be protected from evil spirits.
Also pagan, Romans celebrated the end of fall with a festival geared towards worshipping gods. The Roman Goddess of the harvest was Pomona, and her day was celebrated on November 1st. Pomona was also the goddess of love and fertility. It is believed that on November 1st, single Romans over a certain age were compelled to “marry” someone for a year. The Christian Church ended this practice of marriage for one year. Instead, on November 1st, Christian Romans would draw the names of saints to try to emulate or be inspired for the year.
Pope Gregory I and Converting Pagans
In early medieval times, Church leaders and missionaries accomplished the enormous task of evangelizing pagan peoples throughout Europe and parts of Asia. One issue in changing pagan practices was how to deal with shrines that had been dedicated to various gods, and how to end pagan ceremonies. Some Christians argued the need to destroy the shrines. Pope Gregory I, however, argued that these pagan shrines be consecrated as Christian places of worship. In a letter sent in 601 to the missionaries to the Angles, Pope Gregory I writes, “For those temples are well built, it is requisite that they be converted from the worship of devils to the service of God.” Pope Gregory I also writes, “For there is no doubt that it is impossible to cut off every thing at once from their rude natures; because he who endeavors to ascent to the highest place rises by degrees or steps, not by leaps.”
It is evident that the early Christians used natives’ buildings and local customs for the purpose of conversion. Regarding Halloween, we do not have a document from Christian leaders explaining that October 31st was chosen as All Hallow’s Eve because of the Celtic celebration of Samhain or because of the Roman holiday of Pomona. It appears that there is at least some tie between the pagan celebrations and the Christian holiday, but, it may never be completely clear to what extent these are connected.
Post Reformation Europe
After the Reformation in some countries of Europe, the celebration of Halloween was seen as Catholic and was outlawed. However, in Protestant England, the English celebrated their victory over Guy Fawkes. Guy Fawkes was a Catholic who tried to blow up the Protestant-sympathetic Parliament in 1605. He was caught and executed. On Guy Fawkes Day (November 5th) every year, the Protestant English would reenact Fawkes’ punishment by parading a scarecrow, the Pope in effigy, and other unpopular political figures, through the streets. Boys would dress up in costume and beg for coal to burn the scarecrows. Then, the scarecrows would be set on fire. Also, boys would play tricks on their neighbors.
Halloween in America
In America, Halloween evolved over the last four hundred years and is still evolving. Originally, Halloween was outlawed in many Puritan colonies, but in these colonies many celebrated Guy Fawkes Day and became fascinated with witchcraft and evil spirits. In colonies with religious freedom, Catholics celebrated All Souls Day and All Saints Day.
The American Revolution brought forth a huge wave of religious toleration and civic participation, and Halloween started to evolve more into a secular community event instead of a religious one. Over the 18th and 19th centuries, Halloween became a time for parties, games for children, and matchmaking.
In the 1900s, American magazines promoted how to throw the best Halloween parties and large candy manufacturers promoted the idea of giving out candy to those who want to play tricks. As America became modernized and mass media reached all households, it appears that the current Halloween customs were strongly endorsed by candy makers as a way to make more money. Most recently, department stores create and promote Halloween decorations and Americans spend great amounts of time, energy, and resources decorating their homes.
Other Americans, however, still celebrate the Christian meaning of Halloween, by attending church, saying prayers, remembering the saints, and recalling the martyrs of the faith. These Christians are inspired to live as heroes for the Christian faith. Other church communities hold carnivals as a way to evangelize and to keep kids off the street from participating in Trick or Treating.
*Christian Origin of Halloween: http://www.celebratingholidays.com/?page_id=1116
*A copy of Pope Gregory I’s missionary letter regarding how to deal with pagan shrines:
https://www.ccel.org/ccel/bede/history.v.i.xxix.html : CHAP. XXX. A copy of the letter which Pope Gregory sent to the Abbot Mellitus, then going into Britain. [601 A.D.]
Last week, we traced part of the history of the beginning of capitalism and how it played a role in Europe and the United States in different time periods. One idea of capitalism is best understood as “laissez-faire.” This is a French term meaning the absence of government getting involved in economic affairs. The idea is that individuals will better make decisions for themselves and their families than someone in government. At the end of the Medieval Ages and the beginning of the Early Modern Ages, many European kingdoms followed the economic policy of mercantilism. Mercantilism is very different than capitalism. Under mercantilism, kings established colonies to acquire gold and natural resources. Colonies existed to enrich the kings and the mother country. Because mercantilism always favored the kings at the expense of the colonies, colonists eventually demanded freedom.
In the 1600s and 1700s, there are many examples of mercantilism. Led by the “Sun King” Louis XIV, France established her empire in North America. Spain had already built a huge empire in the 1500s, conquering most of South America and large parts of North America. The 1600s was known as the “Golden Age of Spain” in part because of all the gold Spain took from the Incas and the Aztecs. Great Britain had colonies all around the globe, in North America, South America, and Asia. The Dutch and the Portuguese also had colonies. Each colonial power sought to reap benefits of having cheap raw materials to take back to the home country. And, each kingdom had economic control over its colonists, making laws that restricted the economic freedoms of the colonists. This means that the central government, not the individuals, controlled the colonists.
The American Revolution (1775-1783) was the first of many where colonists overthrew the royal powers and established republics with much greater economic freedom. After founding a republic in 1776, the United States of America implemented a laissez –faire economy, and individual Americans had great freedom over their economic decisions. The U.S.A. was an experiment for capitalism. This freedom over their economic lives continued at least until 1913, when the United States passed the 16th amendment, which allowed for federal taxation of income. In the 1800s, America was the immigration destination for most of the world. In 1776, the United States of America was the newest county in the world, with no navy and no standing army. By the time of World War I, the country was perhaps the mightiest. Economic freedom was one of the main factors that led to the rapid growth of the American economy in the 1800s.
History provides us with two examples of the effects of an economic system run by a central government, and one run by individuals in society. In the mercantilism that Europe’s kings practiced in the 1600s, 1700s, and 1800s, colonists eventually objected to the tight control kings placed on them and eventually revolted, like the Americans in the American Revolution. In the late 1700s and 1800s, American benefitted from capitalism. Under this economic system, Americans became the wealthiest and freest people of the world, and the poor had the greatest opportunities to better their own lives.
On November 8, 2016, Americans will vote for a U.S. President and Vice President. Because Americans currently have a president who cannot run for office as President Obama is in his second term, candidates are more active than normal, even though the election is more than one year away. One idea that is a large part of the election is how each candidate thinks the U.S. government will get involved, or leave alone, the economic activities of Americans. Because the U.S. President has great influence on American economic policy, it’s important to know the differing views on economic policy to choose which one works the best. This article is the first of many to discuss the history of economic policies and U.S history.
Up through the 1400s, Italian city-states had a big advantage over other European cities. Italians controlled the trade between Asia and Europe. Italian control of the Mediterranean trade and with Asian products ended when the Atlantic countries explored and colonized much of the world, beginning with Columbus discovering America in 1492. Power shifted from the south of Europe to the Atlantic countries. New ways of thinking and acting regarding money led what historians call The Commercial Revolution.
Perhaps most important to the Commercial Revolution was capitalism. Capitalism is an outlook and behavior taken by people who freely make, buy, and sell goods. In capitalism, people take risks in the hopes of improving their financial situation. Money that is earned is called profit. Individuals who earn a profit reinvest for more profit. In capitalism, hard work and risk taking is rewarded. Individuals tend to work harder for themselves because they get to enjoy the benefit of their labor. Bankers are ready to loan people capital in the hopes that they will be repaid with interest. The government’s role in capitalism is to be a sort of umpire, who makes sure that each citizen has a fair chance of competing. Government is not supposed to become an active participant in the affairs of the economy under capitalism.
Generally, material ambition became more accepted in European society. It had once been that all Christians were forbidden to earn interest from loaned money. Some elements in society were against the drive for wealth, as William Shakespeare expresses in his play “The Merchant of Venice,” set in 16th century Europe. Johannes Fugger of Augsburg was the head of a very successful banking family. The Fuggers funded the quest of Spanish King Charles I (1500-1558) to become Holy Roman Emperor Charles V.
New kinds of businesses emerged. The idea of the corporation emerged: a legal entity that had the rights of an individual. A joint-stock company was one where business people could put their money together to raise huge amounts of capital. Each person bought stock in the company and owned a share of it. These large amounts of capital were used to fund large enterprises, take huge risks, and reap or lose great amounts of wealth. Insurance products came into existence that guaranteed business ventures.
Merchants used their money to build new businesses, like manufacturing things. Cloth manufacturing was one such business. In a company that worked as a “domestic system,” weavers were paid to make cloth in their homes. Capitalists paid weavers with wages and raw materials. They then sold the goods in the market for a profit. Over time, they brought the raw materials and workers in one location, called the factory system.
Global trade increased the European standard of living in the 1700s and 1800s. Europeans invested in tobacco and sugar plantations in America and in coffee plantations in Asia. Owners took the profits from these businesses and reinvested them. The standard of living of citizens who lived in countries that followed some practices of capitalism greatly increased, while the standard of living of people who lived in countries that did not adopt capitalism either stagnated or decreased. From the 1500s on, Europeans, though not representing the largest population of the world, enjoyed the fruits of capitalism and rapidly modernized.
John De Gree
John De Gree writes the current events with a look at the history of each topic. Articles are written for the young person, aged 10-18, and Mr. De Gree carefully writes so that all readers can understand the event. The perspective the current events are written in is Judeo-Christian.
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