Who was the Real Saint Nicholas, also known as St. Nick, Santa Claus? And...How is Saint Nicholas Remembered in the Czech Republic?
It is late evening, somewhere in Central Europe, and three seemingly incongruent beings are roaming the cities, villages, and mountain towns of this small Slavic land. One is dressed as a bishop from the fourth century, complete with white robe, white beard and mustache, a shepherd’s staff, and mitre (bishop’s hat). Another is wearing horns, dark make-up, black clothes, and a red cape. He is jangling a long and heavy chain and has a black bag he keeps opening up in a threatening manner towards children. The third is an angel, wearing a white robe and wings. The “bishop” and “angel” are smiling gently. The bishop is carrying a bag of goodies to hand out to good kids, while the “devil” is laughing wickedly, jangling his chains, and looking for kids to put in his bag.
As the three visit homes and churches, children are brought to them. The bishop asks the children and parents if they had behaved well the previous year. Before the children can answer, the devil cackles loudly, menacingly jangles his chain, and says, “I know you’ve been a naughty child. You will come with me in my bag and I will take care of you forever.” At this moment, the child comes forth and sings a song, or recites a poem. Little “Jan” assures the bishop and devil that he has been a very good boy. The devil grimaces in pain, and says, “I thought for sure I would get this one.” The angel says, “I knew he was a good boy this year.” Little Jan sighs in relief, receives either a piece of fruit or candy, and the older kids and the parents laugh.
Every year, on the evening of December 5th in the Czech Republic, this play is acted out by thousands of bishops, angels, and devils and millions of families. The bishop, angel, and devil and parents are partners in teaching the children to be good in a way that reminds them of the ramifications of their behavior on Earth.
December 6th is the day set aside in the Roman Catholic Church to remember Saint Nicholas (Svaty Mikulas in Czech). Saint Nicholas was a fourth century bishop who lived on the Mediterranean Sea in the Roman Empire, in present-day Turkey. During Bishop Nicholas’ lifetime, stories abounded of his generosity and of miraculous events associated with him. One story is how a poor family that was considering to sell their daughters into slavery received golden apples by a mysterious person they believed to be Nicholas. Another story is how Nicholas appeared to distressed sailors on the ocean and calmed the seas. Bishop Nicholas was known by all to be incredibly generous to children. (In America, we call him “Santa Claus.”)
In the ninth century, Greek missionaries Cyril and Method converted the Slavic peoples to Christianity and created the various Slavic alphabets. Stories of Saint Nicholas’ generosity spread throughout the Slavic lands and throughout the Christian world. Sometime in the Medieval Ages, the tradition of the benevolent bishop and malevolent devil visiting families began. Originally, children were questioned on their knowledge of the Bible. Today, though, the kids get to escape the devil’s snares by reciting a poem or singing a song.
Nearly all Czech families participate in this tradition, which often takes place in the middle of St. Nicholas parties. Similar festivities on the eve or day of St. Nicholas take place throughout Europe and in some parts of the United States. In many places, it has become a secular holiday, including the Czech Republic. Since the Communist rule of this land from 1948-1989, most Czechs are professed atheists. However, they all still partake in the Svaty Mikulas festitivies, and it appears the children are strongly influenced by Bishop Nicholas, the angel and the devil to be good kids for at least one more year.
1. What day are the Czechs celebrating on December 6th?
2. Why are they celebrating this person?
3. During which years did the Communists control Czechoslovakia?
4. Name one effect Communist rule most likely had on Czechs?
5. What do Americans call Saint Nicholas?
To see more of Jessica De Gree's blog, go HERE.
While in Europe, I decided to keep Snapchat to stay in contact with family and friends, deleting other social media outlets to concentrate my focus in the now. Snapchat is an app which allows users to send pictures to friends for a certain amount of time. It is used the most among the youth, giving them opportunities to send pictures to friends and share their experiences in life. I particularly like Snapchat because I get to send and receive pictures to my little siblings and close friends every day.
However, Snapchat has evolved from an app used to only send personal messages, into an outlet for people to connect with other “snappers” around the world in the form of global stories. While this may seem really great – people get to see other people in other areas of the world – it may be dangerous if people only watch the stories, instead of reading educational articles, to get to know other cultures because they are only getting the viewpoint of the youth, which misrepresents the country or culture as a whole. Even potentially more dangerous, Snapchat has recently allowed companies to post daily stories on the Snapchat story feed, even if each user does not add the company and choose to follow it. With just a finger’s tap on the screen, users can easily access articles, blogs, and posts from these companies.
So, what’s wrong with that? Well, by letting users, especially young people who probably do not yet have a holistic view of the world, read these articles, Snapchat and these companies unconsciously shape the minds of the youth. The quick and easy news is not always factual, or even evocative, making the user used to not having to think too much while reading it. In addition, many of the articles falsely advertise the contents, and many still are extremely poorly written. I have been shocked by so many of the articles, and yet, these articles are so easily accessible, it seems so harmless to just click them and scroll through. If these news substitutes were only about harmless, nonpolitical subjects, they would possibly just negatively affect the user by making them accustomed to using little thought. However, not all of these articles are of innocent content. Much of the content of these stories would be considered as immoral by principled people. Yet, perhaps because mainly only youth use Snapchat, parents do not realize and do not know what their children are reading. Snapchat evolved from an app used to communicate personally into a news source which targets the vulnerable youth.
In a time of growing political division, or hardship, it is important that our youth equip themselves with the skills necessary for the future. Namely, reading, writing, and discussing using sound logic. But, if our youth becomes accustomed to being spoon-fed poorly written, illogical articles, it may be harder later in life to ask the tough questions and logically make good decisions. One way to combat the new Snapchat news source is to read and write good articles. Through making the real news appealing to the youth, and through encouraging the youth to broaden their news sources, they may be better prepared for the future. If not, if our youth become comfortable in accepting things, they may wake up in reality too late to realize their rights have slipped away.
By John De Gree of The Classical Historian
For over two years, since August 2014, violent criminal activity has increased at an alarming rate in American cities, affecting minorities the most. FBI Director James Comey thinks the main cause of this violent crime wave is the “Ferguson Effect.” The Ferguson Effect refers to how policemen have changed how they deal with citizens after the events in Ferguson, Missouri. President Obama disagrees that there is a Ferguson Effect. Researcher and writer Heather Mac Donald of the Manhattan Institute was the first to name and define the Ferguson Effect and has done extensive research on this subject.
In one incident in August 2014, suspect Michael Brown repeatedly attacked a policeman in Missouri and attempted to steal his gun. After refusing to listen to the police officer, Michael Brown charged with his head lowered, and was shot dead. Local prosecutors and President Obama’s Department of Justice investigated and concluded that the police officer acted appropriately to defend himself. Unfortunately, many asserted the policeman was a white racist and killed a black man because of his race. There has never been any evidence to back up this claim of racism.
Immediately after the shooting, many falsely claimed the policeman was a racist, and rioters destroyed parts of Ferguson, Missouri, burning business, looting, and attacking policemen. Political leaders made statements that appeared they approved of the rioting. Nearly a year after the incident, and after the Department of Justice investigated, President Obama stated, “We may never know what really happened in Ferguson,” implying the findings of the Justice Department were not complete.
After the events in Ferguson, “Black Lives Matter” was born. Black Lives Matter is an organization that aims to teach others that policemen are targeting blacks, killing blacks, racists, and that America needs to radically change to stop the murder and oppression of blacks by policemen. Black Lives Matter (BLM) rejects the American justice system’s findings in the Michael Brown case. Members of BLM organize protests, write articles, and spread their beliefs in news media.
Beginning in the 1990s, police departments, beginning with the NYPD, implemented changes in how policemen worked and the rate of crime drastically declined. Police became actively involved in preventing crime, confronting those who appeared to be planning crime, frisking suspects, and handing out infractions for minor infractions, like vandalism. Combined with structural changes within the departments, these actions led to a dramatic drop in crime.
However, since the incident in Ferguson and the birth of Black Lives Matter, Researcher Heather MacDonald asserts that policemen have changed how they work, and this has been the main reason for the major spike in violent crime. After the negative press coverage from the Ferguson incident, policemen are now unable, or unwilling, to continue their work as before. When working, especially in major cities with large populations of minorities, policemen are confronted with loud, jeering mobs. Bottles or rocks are thrown at policemen working in the most dangerous areas. Because of this hostile, anti-police atmosphere, policemen are afraid to act because they might be accused of racism. This is known as the Ferguson Effect.
Many claim one result of the police change has been a steep increase of violent crime in America. Since 2015, in the nation’s largest cities, murders are up 17 percent. Milwaukee had its deadliest year in a decade, and Baltimore’s per capita homicide rate was the highest ever, with a 72% increase. Murders are up in Cleveland by 90% over the previous year.
President Obama disagrees with FBI Director Comey whether there is a Ferguson Effect and if there is a spike in violent crime. Obama has announced that there is no Ferguson Effect, and he appears to agree with BLM that there is a racist problem in American police forces. Comey, who works under President Obama, stands by his argument that it is because of the Ferguson effect that policemen have backed off from the proactive police procedures that limit crime.
Great Discussion Questions You Can Ask Your Kids
By John De Gree of www.classicalhistorian.com Copyright 2016. All Rights Reserved.
By John De Gree, of The Classical Historian
In a rare event in American political history, a self-proclaimed Socialist is one of the major candidates for the U.S. Presidency. Socialist Senator Bernie Sanders (Vermont) has competed very well against Senator Hillary Clinton (New York) for the Democratic nomination for the President. Many Americans do not know what is a Socialist.
Socialists believe that society functions best when members are forced to share economic goods. This means, for example, that if someone earns $100,000 and another earns $10,000 a year, both should enjoy the $110,000. Socialists think it is unfair that one person should benefit more than another because of his ability, effort, or circumstances in life. Socialists think that the government should determine how much money a person is allowed to keep and how much he should give to others. Some socialists think all people should have the same income, where other socialists think some people can earn more than others. But all socialists agree that the government should determine a minimum amount that each person in society should earn, regardless of his situation.
A socialist thinks that it is the role of government to make decisions regarding private property. For example, if a family has 10 children the socialist thinks that the government should make sure the larger-sized family has a large enough house for the bigger family. This could mean that taxes from the family with 2 children will go to the family with 10 children to support them.
A socialist thinks that the individual rights of the citizen come second to the needs of the state, and it is the role of the government to determine what are the needs of the state. We have many examples in history over the last 200 years to help us understand what a socialist state may decide is the need of the state. In the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (U.S.S.R.) in the 1900s, the government decided that religion was an enemy of the people. The U.S.S.R. forbade religious practice and tortured and murdered millions of people to enforce the ban on religious practice. Because of the tragic consequences of the U.S.S.R., many Americans fear socialism.
Senator Sanders describes his political philosophy as democratic socialism. Sanders does not want government to take away others’ property or severely limit individual’s rights, but he would like government to heavily tax those who are successful, and he wants government to distribute this money evenly. Unlike in the U.S.S.R., where people were forced to follow the government or die, Sanders wants people in the U.S.A. to vote and choose a government that will raise taxes. Sanders thinks that the amount of money in a society is fixed, and it is the government’s job to distribute it evenly among all.
Great Questions You Can Ask Your Kids
1. Who is Bernie Sanders?
2. What is a socialist?
3. What happened in the U.S.S.R. in the 1900s?
4. What is democratic socialism?
5. What do you think of socialism?
By John De Gree of www.classicalhistorian.com Copyright 2016. All Rights Reserved. #theclassicalhistorian
Harriet Tubman’s image will replace Andrew Jackson’s image on the front of the $20 bill, beginning sometime after 2020. Jackson’s image will move to the back of the bill. During Harriet Tubman’s life, she was hated by the Southern Democrats but loved by the party of Lincoln, the Republicans. Because of the change of the $20 bill, Tubman’s life and meaning has become again a controversial topic for the United States of America.
Harriet Tubman was an escaped slave who risked her life to free others. Born a slave in Maryland, we believe her birth date was 1822, though we are unsure because slaveholders tried to take away any birthday celebrations for slaves. It was believed that if a slave didn’t think she was special, she would follow orders better. Some time in her young adulthood, Tubman escaped and travelled along the Underground Railroad until she made it to Pennsylvania, a free state. After making it to freedom, she returned South numerous times to rescue dozens of slaves.
Escaping from slavery was dangerous, but this did not stop Tubman from returning to the South to rescue more slaves. She travelled on the Underground Railroad. This was a secret system of families, mainly white, who sheltered and fed escaped slaves during the day at their homes, called “stations”. At nighttime, the slaves continued on the “railroad” until they made it to another station, or into the North. Tubman acted as a conductor, a person who led the slaves along the railroad.
Harriet Tubman carried a gun while a conductor on the Underground Railroad. Running away from slavery into the unknown was so terrifying, that some slaves wanted to return to their masters while on the journey to freedom. If a slave started to turn back, Tubman would point the gun at these individuals and threaten to shoot if they returned. Tubman knew the slave master would torture the slave until he found out information where the other runaways were.
Unlike Andrew Jackson who was the founder of the modern Democratic Party, Harriet Tubman was a lifelong Republican, even acting as a spy against the southern slaveholding Democrats during the Civil War (1861-1865). Tubman reportedly had hundreds of intelligence contacts and could easily gain the trust of slaves in the South. In one scouting mission, she became the first woman to command a significant number of American troops in combat. This action freed more slaves than all of her journeys on the Underground Railroad.
Harriet Tubman was a devout Christian and believed she gained her strength and courage to help others from her belief throughout her lifetime. After the Civil War, she helped to found a church and a retirement home. She also fought for woman’s suffrage and fair treatment of black Civil War veterans. Harriet Tubman died in 1913, loved by the North and the slaves she had freed.
One definition of irony is "a state of affairs or an event that seems deliberately contrary to what one expects and is often amusing as a result." It is ironic that the Obama administration is replacing Andrew Jackson with Harriet Tubman on the front of the $20 bill. Jackson is the modern founder of the Democratic Party. President Obama is the leader of the Democratic Party. Jackson was a populist, and Obama campaigned as one. Tubman was hated by Democrats and loved by Republicans. She was a gun-carrying, Republican Christian, the exact person that President Obama continues to speak and act against. It is ironic that under a Democratic administration that is against civilian use of weapons, that Harriet Tubman is replacing the founder of the Democratic Party on the $20 bill.
By John De Gree of www.classicalhistorian.com Copyright 2016. All Rights Reserved.
Redesigning the $20 Bill, Part I
The United States Treasury announced that it is redesigning $5, $10, and $20 bills. The final redesign will be presented in 2020. In 2016, President Obama had requested the Treasury Department (which the President runs) to place women and civil rights activists on prominent places on U.S. bills. In response to his request, Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew began a process that has been controversial. The most significant change will be on the $20 bill. The image of Harriet Tubman will replace the image of President Andrew Jackson on the front of the bill, and Jackson will be featured on the back of the bill.
The Current $20 Bill and Andrew Jackson
Andrew Jackson is currently featured on the front of the $20 bill, and from the early 1800s until about the 1960s, nearly all Americans considered him a hero. Andrew Jackson had fought as a young teenager in the American Revolution, was caught, and suffered a sword injury because of his stubborn refusal to obey a British officer to clean his muddy boots. He rose in ranks in the American Army, and earned the nickname of “the Second George Washington” in the War of 1812 because of his crucial role in soundly defeating the British at the Battle of New Orleans. Jackson defeated Indians in a series of battles over many years, and he captured Florida from Spain.
The American people overwhelmingly elected Andrew Jackson President twice, and he served from 1829-1837. Andrew Jackson is considered as the founder of the modern Democratic Party. He was one of the most popular Presidents ever elected, and he was the first President who related well with the common man. Jackson was the first born in a log cabin, west of the Appalachian Mountains. He promoted the idea that the people should vote for electors, and historians call this period in history “Jacksonian Democracy.” As President, he vetoed the National Bank, and some think this kept America from having an elite that controlled everyone.
In the 1960s and 1970s, some Americans began to rethink the idea that Jackson was an American hero. They point to Jackson’s strong support for the Indian Removal Act (1830). The Indian Removal Act was a law that forced Indians to move west to Oklahoma. The law gave the President authority to forcefully remove Indians, take their land, and resettle them. Though the Supreme Court ruled that this law was unconstitutional, Jackson and subsequent Presidents enforced it.
From 1830–1850, around 60,000 Indians were forced to move west into present-day Oklahoma. Many of the marches west were under the bayonet of the American soldier. Because some of the marches were carried out in inhumane ways, from 7,000 to 15,000 Indians died while moving west. “The Trail of Tears” is a name that historians give to one or more of these removals. It is because of Jackson’s policy towards Indians that many Americans do not think he was an American hero.
Was Jackson an American Hero?
The question about Jackson being an American hero should be asked in its historical context. During the time of Jackson, America was a new country, fighting for its survival. Had Great Britain won the War of 1812, the United States of America would have become part of Britain’s empire and would have lost its independence. Jackson was a main reason America won the war. Jackson promoted the idea that every citizen should vote for the President, and he was loved by nearly all. He founded the modern Democratic Party, and wanted government to represent average Americans, not just the powerful.
Some think Jackson’s policy of removing Indians west was genocide, and some say that Jackson was evil because he owned slaves. Genocide means when a government tries to kill all people from one religious or ethnic group. Removing the Indians west was brutal and Americans killed Indians because the forced marches were harsh, but there never was an American policy to kill all Indians. It is true Jackson owned slaves. While our society rightfully believes that slavery is an evil, it used to be seen as normal.
The New $20 Bill
On the new $20 bill, the image of Harriet Tubman will be on the front, and Andrew Jackson’s image will be on the reverse. Who is Harriet Tubman? Was she an American hero? Is there any debate regarding her past, like with Jackson? Read our next article, “Redesigning the $20 Bill, Part II” to find out!
By John De Gree of The Classical Historian, www.classicalhistorian.com Copyright 2016. All Rights Reserved.
Patrick was born in fourth century Roman Britain (c. 390-461) to a loving family of wealth. His parents were most likely successful merchants and administrators of Rome. On February 27, 380, Roman Emperor Theodosius issued the Edict of Thessalonica and declared the official religion in the empire to be the Catholic Church. Patrick was brought up in this faith. He had a privileged childhood as the son of wealthy Roman leaders, but suffered great hardships for a number of years. Patrick brought Christianity to the Irish and changed the course of history.
At the beginning of the medieval ages, many in Europe clung to the pagan religions of the past. Ireland, the island to the west of Britain, was a land where Christianity was unknown. Celts in Ireland followed a belief called Druidism. They believed in many gods, and Druid priests had many practices that we would call barbaric. Druids sacrificed humans to keep their gods happy.
As a sixteen year-old, Patrick’s easy life of comfort and prestige changed forever. Some reports state Patrick had snuck out of his parents’ home and took part in an all-night pagan ritual. With dawn breaking, a small band of Irish pirates raided Britain and captured Patrick. He was taken to Ireland and sold into slavery, completely separated from his loving parents. Patrick wrote later that he had left the faith of his family, and for this he was being punished.
For six years, Patrick worked as a common slave in Ireland. At any instant, he could be killed, mutilated, or beaten by his owner. He was far from his home and far from any help his Christian friends could provide. Instead of becoming desperate and sad, though, Patrick spent his time in prayer and reflection. Working as a shepherd for six years, he grew to love the Irish land and people, and yearned to one day teach them the Christian belief. He united his sufferings as a slave to the sufferings of his savior, Christ, and his love for his captors grew.
According to Patrick’s writings, he heard the Heavenly Father speak to him and tell him to escape from slavery and to walk to the coast. A boat would be waiting for him. As a slave, if he were recognized, he would have been put to death! Patrick did as he was told, and there was a boat waiting for him. The captain agreed to take him back to Britain.
Patrick’s parents were so excited to see him, but they were also disappointed to hear what he wanted to do. He wanted to become a priest and return to the people who enslaved him in Ireland. His parents wanted him to get married, become wealthy and important, and raise a family. If he returned to Ireland, wouldn’t he be killed by his former slave owner for escaping? How could he have a family if he became a priest?
Patience is a virtue Patrick practiced. He went to Gaul (France), studied to become a priest, and waited for his calling to go back to Ireland and spread Christianity. At the age of 49, after about 25 years of waiting, he finally received the order to go to Ireland as a bishop to evangelize. He returned, went to his former slave owner, and spoke about Christ. Amazingly, within Bishop Patrick’s lifetime, Ireland became a Christian country! And, since this time Irish missionaries have travelled throughout the world spreading the news of Jesus and his Church.
There are many legends attributed to Patrick in Ireland. For example, some say he chased all the snakes out of Ireland, or that he used a three-leaf clover to explain the Trinity. But, what is not legend is that within his lifetime, Ireland changed from a land of slavery, human sacrifice, and paganism, to a Christian land, where the slave trade came to a halt, and where murder and tribal warfare decreased.
Along with bringing Christianity to the Irish, Patrick established monasteries that some say saved Western civilization. In the Middle Ages, a monastery was a place where men lived and worshipped, served as doctors and nurses, fed the poor, took care of orphans, and copied important documents. It was the only place of learning in the first centuries after the Roman Empire fell. As Roman law and order gave way to chaos, Irish monks kept working, copying classic texts of the west, and spreading Christianity. For centuries after Patrick died, Irish monks spread both the Christian faith and the classics. It is for this that some historians claim that St. Patrick saved Western Civilization.
To read the actual writings of Saint Patrick:
Lesson Ideas for Ages 3-11:
1. Look up Ireland on a map. Sketch your own drawing of Ireland and Britain and the rest of continental Europe, or, find a map outline. Color in Ireland green. Ireland is known for being green because it rains so much in Ireland. “Irish weather” means that it is misty and wet outside. This weblink has an excellent outline map of Ireland: http://www.google.com/imgres?imgurl=http://0.tqn.com/d/geography/1/0/1/L/europe.jpg&imgrefurl=http://geography.about.com/library/blank/blxeurope.htm&h=561&w=807&sz=64&tbnid=3N8DrCBfvYFDrM:&tbnh=90&tbnw=129&prev=/search%3Fq%3Doutline%2Bmap%2Bof%2BEurope%26tbm%3Disch%26tbo%3Du&zoom=1&q=outline+map+of+Europe&docid=JhUUGtUtO8jd6M&sa=X&ei=ZCZeT6yWDKauiAKU2qjRCw&ved=0CC8Q9QEwAA&dur=1357
2. Writing Ideas for Ages 12 and older (and for high achieving younger kids!)
a. Take the biography of St. Patrick and try to write one sentence that summarizes each paragraph.
b. Answer this question in a one-paragraph essay, “Was Patrick’s decision to become a priest and return to Ireland crazy, or was it courageous?”
On January 29, 2016, Karl Zinmeister delivered a talk on philanthropy at Hillsdale University. Part of this talk was printed in Imprimus, http://imprimis.hillsdale.edu/ a free, monthly publication. I strongly encourage all Classical Historian readers to subscribe to this newsletter. Many facts and ideas of this week’s current event article are presented here. We also used Mr. Zinmeister’s article found at this address: http://www.philanthropyroundtable.org/topic/donor_intent/donation
Americans donate more than any other people on Earth. Per capita, Americans donate seven times as much as the average European. The charitable sector of our economy is much greater than the size of our national defense, comprising 11 percent of our country’s workforce, and 6% of America’s gross domestic product. On top of this, there are between four and ten million full-time volunteer employees. In 2015, Americans gave over $300 billion to charity. Of this amount, 15% came from charitable foundations, 6% came from corporations, and 79% came from individual Americans.
Zinmeister writes that the giving nature of Americans has an incredible influence on our society. One area charitable giving has affected is the education of citizens. In 1880, Ohio had three million inhabitants and 37 colleges. England had 23 million inhabitants but only four colleges. One reason for this difference is that in England, the four colleges were public, built and run by the government of England. In Ohio, however, most of the colleges were private, founded by thousands of small, individual donations. Throughout America, hundreds of private universities were founded by thousands of individual donations.
It is amazing to ponder the amount of donations Americans give. The Gates Foundation donates more assistance overseas than the entire Italian government. Its work with helping children is believed to save 8 million kids in its first two decades. Americans in churches and synagogues send four and a half times as much the Gates Foundation does. And, private American philanthropic aid is more than the entire foreign aid budget of the U.S. government. Most American families who donate give in amounts less than $2,500 annually.
Mr. Zinmeister offers three reasons why Americans lead the world in giving. He notes that the U.S.A. is the most religious industrialized nation in the world. Zinmeister writes, “Religion motivates giving more than any other factor.” The second reason is that Americans believe in the idea of helping your neighbor. The third reason is entrepreneurialism. Americans are motivated to succeed by the idea of starting a company and providing a product or service that others need. Americans also like to support others to fulfill their dreams.
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 on November 1st for all Christians to celebrate.
The word Halloween comes from the celebration of All Saints Day (November 1st). From the very beginning of celebrating All Saints Day, Christians attended Holy Mass beginning the evening before November 1st. 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, or All Saints Day. Masses occurred one day before All Saint’s Day, in the evening. A blending of these three words (All Hallow’s Eve in Old English) 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. Knowing what happened among pagan peoples however, is challenging, as many polytheistic peoples of Europe were also illiterate. There is a lack of primary sources.
Over 2,000 years ago, Celts lived in Central and Northwestern Europe. Celts were pagans, people who believed in many gods. They believed that they could communicate with good and evil spirits. The Celts celebrated a day in the fall 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. However, 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.
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.
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.
Receive Articles and Coupons in Your Email