Recently, a friend of mine posted something on Facebook about Halloween and about how Christians should not celebrate it because of its Pagan origins. I would argue that these origins aren’t that important and are often debatable anyway.
I started off by posting a link explaining the origins and purpose of the Christian observation of All Saints Day/All Souls Day and Halloween and how the observations themselves aren’t really related to what Pagans observed. His question was something along the lines of “so there’s no relation to Wicca or Samhain?”
Well, there is certainly no relation to Wicca as that is a religion that was created in the last century.
As far as Samhain and ancient Paganism, it’s a little more complicated. Most Christian holidays (particularly Christmas and Easter) were arguably created to coincide with former Pagan holidays in order to ease transition when Pagan populations were converted. For this reason, some Christian groups don’t observe them at all (Jehovah’s Witnesses for example) and also because of this some symbology and practices have carried on.
Having said that, individual traditions can be hard to pin down. Dressing up in costumes is possibly Pagan in origin but for Pagan’s it was to disguise oneself from and/or mock evil spirits, not cavort with them. Even this relationship is debatable as the most direct ancestor of dressing up in costume for Halloween probably comes from the tradition of “mumming” in the middle ages which has no direct Pagan influences. On the other hand, the “scary” nature of Halloween and many costumes probably is influenced by Pagan traditions. Trick or Treating could be Pagan in origin or it could be Christian depending on whether or not it descended from Pagan traditions or the more Christian tradition involving “soul cakes”.
In a way it’s largely irrelevant. While All Saints Day/All Souls Day and the associated Vigil (All Hallowes Eve/Halloween) still have religious meaning for some Christians, the act of trick or treating is a purely secular creation of 20th century America. As secular as fireworks on the 4th of July. I would argue there is nothing evil about my 3 year old daughter dressing up as a Snow Man (Olaf) or going door to door or knocking or saying “Trick or Treat” or getting candy. For her (and for me) it is just something fun to do, like going to a park or to see a movie. I don’t see how it matters that 1000 years ago some other group of people had some possibly vaguely similar traditions for completely different reasons.
As far as the religious aspects of All Saints/All Souls/Halloween, they aren’t related to the Pagan traditions except possibly in timing.