A Pastoral Word on Halloween
The Joyous Feast of Pumpkin
by Bishop [now Archbishop] Kyrill
It is that time of the year when the
secular society in which we live is preparing for the festival of Halloween. Many do not
know its spiritual roots and history, and why it contradicts the teachings of the Church.
The feast of Halloween began in pre-Christian times among the Celtic peoples of Great
Britain, Ireland and northern France. These pagan peoples believed that life was born from
death. Therefore they celebrated the beginning of the "new year" in the fall (on
the eye of October 31 and into the day of November 1) when, as they believed, the season
of cold, darkness, decay and death began. A certain deity whom they called Samhain was
believed by the Celts to be the Prince of Death and it was he whom they honored at their
New Year's festival*.
From an Orthodox Christian point of view, we can see many
diabolical beliefs and practices associated with this feast which have endured to this
time. On the eve of the New Year's festival, the Druids, who were the priests of the
Celtic cult, instructed their people to extinguish all hearth fires and lights. On the
evening of the festival, a huge bonfire built from oak branches (oak was regarded by the
Celts as sacred) was ignited. Upon this fire sacrifices were burned as an offering in
order to appease and cajole Samhain, the Prince of Death. It was also believed that
Samhain, being pleased by the offerings, allowed the souls of the dead to return to their
homes for a festal visit on this day. It is from this belief that the practice of
wandering about in the dark dressed up in costumes imitating ghosts, witches, hobgoblins,
fairies, etc. grew up. For the living entered into fellowship and communion with the dead
by what was, and still is, a ritual act of imitation, through costume and the activity of
wandering around in the dark of night, even as the souls of the dead were believed to
The dialogue of trick or treat is also an
integral part of this system of beliefs and practices. It was believed that the souls of
the dead who had entered into the world of darkness, decay and death, and therefore into
total communion with and submission to Samhain, bore the affliction of great hunger on
their festal visit. Out of this grew the practice of begging, which was a further ritual
enactment and imitation of what the Celts believed to be the activities of the souls of
the dead on their festal visit. Associated with this is the still further implication that
if the souls of the dead and their imitators were not appeased with "treats",
i.e., offerings, then the wrath and anger of Samhain would be unleashed through a
system of "tricks", i.e. curses. Such is the true meaning of this pagan feast.
It is then evident that for an Orthodox Christian participation at any level is impossible
and idolatrous, resulting in a genuine betrayal of God and Church. If we participate in
the ritual activity of imitating the dead and wandering in the dark asking for
treats or offering them to children, we then have willfully sought fellowship with
the dead, whose Lord is not Samhain, but rather Satan. It is to Satan then that these
treats are offered, not to children.
There are other practices associated with Halloween from
which we must stay away, such as sorcery, fortune telling, divination, games of chance,
witchcraft and the carving of an ugly face upon a pumpkin and then placing a lit candle
within the infamous Jack O' Lantern. The pumpkin (in older days other vegetables were
used) was carved by the Celts in imitation of the dead and used to convey the new light
(from the sacred oak fire) to the home where the lantern was left burning through the
night. This "holy lantern" is no other than an imitation of the truly holy
votive light (lampada) offered before an icon of Christ and the saints. Even the use and
display of the Jack O'Lantern involves participation in this "death" festival
The Holy Fathers of the first millennium (a time when the
Church was one and strictly Orthodox) counteracted this Celtic pagan feast by introducing
the Feast of All Saints. It is from this that the term Halloween developed. The word
Halloween has its roots in the Old English of All Hallow E'en, i.e., the Eve commemorating
all those who were hallowed (sanctified), i.e. Halloween Unfortunately, either due to lack
of knowledge or understanding, the Celtic pagan feast being celebrated on the same day as
the Christian feast of All Saints (in western Christiandom) came to be known as Halloween.
The people who remained pagan and therefore anti-Christian
reacted to the Church's attempt to supplant their festival by celebrating this evening
with increased fervor. Many of these practices involved desecration and mockery of the
Church's reverence for Holy Relics. Holy things, such as crosses and the Reserved
Sacrament, were stolen and used in perverse and sacrilegious ways. The practice of begging
became a system of persecution designed to harass Christians who were, by their beliefs,
unable to participate by making offerings to those who served the Lord of Death.
One can see in contemporary Western society that the
Western Church's attempt to supplant this pagan festival with a Christian feast failed.
How then did something that is so obviously contradictory to the Holy Orthodox faith gain
such acceptance among Christian people?
The answer is spiritual apathy and listlessness which are
the spiritual roots of atheism and turning away from God. Today's society urges one that
Halloween and other such festivities, notwithstanding their apparent pagan and idolatrous
origin, are nonetheless harmless and of no consequence. Upon closer consideration these
pagan festivals are the source for destroying any kind of spiritual foundation and lead to
disbelief and outright atheism.
Halloween undermines the very basis of the Church which
was founded on the blood of martyrs who had refused, by giving up their lives, to partake
in any form of idolatry
Holy Mother Church must take a firm stand
in counteracting any such (pagan) events. Christ taught us that God is the judge in all
our actions and beliefs and that we are either FOR GOD or AGAINST GOD. There is no neutral
or middle of the road approach.
Today we witness a revival of satanist cults; we hear of
satanic services conducted on Halloween night. Children are kidnapped by satanists for
their ritualistic sacrifices. Orthodox clergy are ritualistically killed as has happened
more than once in California. Everywhere Satan reaches out to ensnare as many innocent
people as possible. The newsstands are filled with material on spiritualism, supernatural
phenomena, seances, prophesies and all sorts of demonically inspired works. These works
all serve Satan, for they are not the fruit of the Holy Spirit, but the fruit of the
spirit of this world.
* Webmaster Note: A ROCOR Priest of Irish descent has questioned this assertion. He writes: "There was no deity called Samhain who was the Lord of Death. Samhain is pronounced 'sow-in' (where 'ow' rhymes with 'cow'). Samhain is simply Irish Gaelic for the period of the year which is now called the month of November. The god Samhain myth first appears in the year 1770 when Col. Charles Vallency wrote a 6 volume set of books which attempted to prove that the Irish people once came from Armenia! Geoffrey Higgins Samhain then promoted this error of a supposed god in a book in 1827 when he attempted to prove that the Druids originally came from India. The error might have originated in confusion over the name of Samana, an ancient Vedic/Hindu deity. According to one
Web site I found, 'Samhain was in general a bright & joyous celebration for the Celts.
The people celebrated through the night and they were out in the
open air. They were not huddled at home in terror of ghosties. On Samhain
they had finished gathering in the harvest and they had slaughtered some of
the cattle for food to see them through the winter. It was with the fresh
bones of these cattle that they fed the great bonfires (bone-fires) which
burnt through the night to welcome the New Year.'"
From a parish bulletin at St. Nicholas Cathedral. John Sanidopoulos wrote a thought-provoking, albeit controversial, article entitled "Orthodoxy and Halloween: Separating Fact from Fiction", which offers a different point of view worth considering. Let each Orthodox Christian come to their own conclusions if they do not have specific guidance from their Priest or Spiritual Father. Also, consider Steve Lammert's great idea: "Every year, on Hallowe’en, I sit on the front porch of my house with a bowl of candy, a box of beeswax candles, and a large icon for the Feast of All Saints."