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Updated: Oct 29, 2023

English: Halloween Hebrew: ליל כל הקדושים

In keeping up with the theme of my last couple of articles, I will break down Halloween symbolism, considering we are 2 days away from 10/31/2023.

Image credit: Stockphoto

What must an unfamiliar observer think of Halloween? Parents dress their children as monsters, vampires, devils, witches, ghosts, etc... and encourage them to approach total strangers to ask them for candy and other treats. Homeowners decorate their homes with images of black cats, ghosts, goblins, skeletons and carved pumpkins and sometimes transform their yards into make-believe graveyards. Adults dress in similar strange and outlandish costumes and go to parties in rooms decorated like dungeons, pits in hell and or crypts.

Why are such bizarre practices so popular to the masses? Why would anyone celebrate a holiday emphasizing the morbid and demonic? Where did such strange customs originate?

We can trace the roots of Halloween far back to the Celtic pagan festival called Samhain (pronounced SAH-wane) which was then appropriated by the early Catholic Church some 1,200 years ago.

Halloween has intricate hidden Hebrew roots. It is also called ‘All Hallows’ Eve, or ‘All Saints’ Eve’ and translated as such, word-for-word into today’s Hebrew. This holiday originally initiates the triduum of Allhallowtide, the time in the liturgical year dedicated to remembering the dead, including saints (hallows), martyrs, and all the faithful departed believers. On All Hallows Eve, the veil between the world of the living and the world of the dead becomes thin. The celebrations allow the souls of the dead to come back to earth and walk among the living.

There are Christian overtones to the holiday as well. According to The Encyclopedia of Religion, Allhallows Eve, is a festival celebrated on the 31st of October, the evening prior to the Christian Feast of All Saints Day, a day of celebrating the church's saints. According to this timeline, Halloween marks the beginning of winter as well as the first day of the New Year within the ancient Celtic culture of the British Isles. In the 8th century CE, the Roman Catholic Church moved All Saint's Day, to November 1st.

Traditions from Samhain remained, such as wearing disguises to hide yourself from the souls wandering around your home.

The remembering of the dead is also in the heart of Protestant traditions alongside other traditions and customs. My interest today is in the name ‘Hallows’ and ‘Saints’. There is a similar biblical Hebrew word that is likely to be the origin of the name Halloween – ‘cha•llal’ or ‘ha•llal’. This is the word used in the Bible for a slain person, mainly for those who died fighting to protect an important or holy cause. In Hebrew it also means to praise or to boast, to raise up. Halal is the root word for the biblical word hallelujah. Challal in Hebrew means to defile, pollute, desecrate, begin.

Interestingly, the masks and customs used on Halloween are also because the traditional, Allhallowtide, revolves around the theme of using ‘humor and ridicule to confront the power of death’.

From this developed the tradition of 'Trick or treat.' According to studies conducted every year, about 80% of American adults are planning to give out candies to visiting children on Halloween, and 93% of the children plan on going out to 'Trick or treating,' also known as, give me something good or else I'm going to prank you, badly.

Modern celebrations of Halloween may appear on the surface to be quite harmless, but the spiritual implications of dabbling with the spirit world are extremely serious.

Why Do We Carve Pumpkins at Halloween?

The jack-o-lantern has a long story with Halloween, although our favorite devilish faces haven't always been carved out of pumpkins. Their origin comes from an Irish myth about Stingy Jack, who tricked the Devil for his own monetary gain. When Jack died, God didn't

allow him into heaven, and the Devil didn’t let him into hell, so Jack was sentenced to roam the earth for eternity. In Ireland, people started to carve demonic faces out of turnips to frighten away Jack’s wandering soul. When Irish immigrants moved to the U.S., they began carving jack-o’-lanterns from pumpkins, as these were native to the region.

But how did jack-o’-lanterns become associated with Halloween?

It was believed that during Samhain the souls of those who had died that year traveled to the otherworld and that other souls would return to visit their homes. On this occasion,

it was believed that a gathering of supernatural forces occurred as during no other period of the year. The eve and day of Samhain were characterized as a time when the barriers between the human and supernatural worlds were broken. Otherworldly entities, such as the souls of the dead, were able to visit earthly inhabitants, and humans could take the opportunity to penetrate the domains of the gods and supernatural creatures.

"Fiery tributes and sacrifices of animals, crops, and possibly human beings were made to appease supernatural powers who controlled the fertility of the land ... Samhain acknowledged the entire spectrum of nonhuman forces that roamed the earth during the period"

Huge bonfires were set on hilltops to frighten away evil spirits. The festivals acquired sinister significance. It was the time to placate the supernatural powers controlling the processes of nature. In addition, Halloween was thought to be the most favorable time for divinations concerning marriage, luck, health, and death. It was the only day on which the help of the devil was invoked for such purposes" (Encyclopaedia Britannica, 15th edition, Micropaedia, Vol. 4, p. 862, "Halloween").

Bobbing for apples were originally a form of divination (fortune telling) to learn of future marriages. The first person to bite an apple was predicted to be the first to marry in the coming year ... The jack-o-lantern ... represent[ed] a watchman on Halloween night or a man caught between earth and the supernatural world" (Jack Santino, All Around the Year: Holidays & Celebrations in American Life, 1994, p. 26).

Although some may dismiss the demonic symbolism and divination associated with Halloween as harmless fun, the Bible reveals the existence of evil spirits, led by Satan the devil, whom God holds responsible for great suffering and sorrow inflicted on the human race. Revelation 12:9 speaks of "the great dragon ... that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan ... [who] deceives the whole world ..."

The name given him in the Bible, Satan, means adversary or enemy. The apostle John tells us that "the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one" (1 John 5:19). Satan and the other fallen angels (demons) constantly try to keep humanity spiritually blinded, turning them aside from their awesome destiny as part of the family of God.

In other lore, it makes sense why pumpkins - carved or not... are traditionally placed on the front porch during the Halloween season as a tool of protection, warding off evil and inviting positive energy into homes. The flickering candle placed inside the carved pumpkin symbolizes the eternal flame of life, a beacon of hope that guides lost souls and wards off darkness. The warm glow emanating from the pumpkin's eyes reminds us of the importance of light in the midst of darkness and serves as a reminder to cherish the light within ourselves.

Are you planning on celebrating Halloween? What do you believe? Please share your comments below.

Follow this author on X @ CarliFrueh


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