According to CNN, more than 179 million Americans celebrated Halloween this year, spending over $9 billion on decorations, candy, costumes and more. That’s over one-third of the U.S. population.
In a class lecture on the history of Halloween, Luke Ritter, a lecturer of history, told a story from his childhood about trick-or-treating at the home of a man who said he shouldn’t celebrate Halloween since it is a pagan, Satanic holiday.
“Nothing could be further from the truth,” Ritter said. “The origins of Halloween are, in fact, very Christian and rather American.
“Halloween falls on Oct. 31 because of the Catholic Church. It’s not pagan. Its observances are the result of medieval Christian practices of piety, and the Halloween we now celebrate was formed in America.”
According to catholic.org, the Catholic Church first celebrated “All Saints’ Day” or “All Hallows’ Day” in 609 A.D., but it wasn’t until the mid-eighth century that the holiday was moved to Nov. 1. The celebration began the evening before, on Oct. 31, All Hallows’ Eve or “evening,” eventually called Halloween.
Ritter explained the various merging European traditions from multiple countries and religious practices, both ancient and modern, which have been attributed as the source of this holiday. According to Ritter, the first time these were simultaneously celebrated was likely in the British colonies of North America during the 1700s.
“I certainly did not know a lot of that information, like how it brings in multiple aspects of different cultures,” said Sarah Mountain, a freshman English language arts education major from Niceville, Florida. “I think the whole conservative South thinks that it’s, like, very devil-oriented, but the fact that it’s got a lot of Christian roots is actually kind of surprising.”
Rebekah Hedden, a freshman nursing major from Crestview, Florida, commented on the irony of churches hosting fall festivals on the day of Halloween with essentially identical traditions.
“They don’t want to include the word ‘Halloween’ because it’s considered to be pagan, but a fall festival is just celebrating fall, which just happens to be on Halloween, you know, which will still have pumpkins, candy … It will just be ‘Christianized,’ ” Hedden said.
“Trick-or-treat is perhaps the oddest and most American addition to Halloween and, from a kid’s perspective, ‘the bestest part,’ ” Ritter said. “And it so happens to be the unwitting contribution of the English after the Protestant Reformation.
Oct. 31 had also been lauded as Reformation Day because, as the story goes, this was the day that Protestant reformer Martin Luther famously nailed his 95 theses on the church doors of Wittenberg in 1517. This year marks the 500th anniversary.
Ritter said that Luther’s reason for posting on Oct. 31 was to alert Christians in his town that he was protesting false saintliness and the Catholic Church’s supposed exploitation of people’s fear of judgment and purgatory, which was heavily tied to “All Souls’ Day” on Nov. 2.
Leading up to Nov. 2, there was an increase in the sale of indulgences for dead loved ones, which the Catholic Church claimed could pardon certain sins.
In a separate interview, Ritter discussed the impact of the Protestant Reformation.
“The world we know today has been shaped profoundly by the Reformation,” Ritter said. “It’s hard to imagine what the world would look like if this event hadn’t taken place.”
Immediate effects of the Reformation included several religious wars, the independence of several new nation states, the nation of England and greater religious diversity around Europe.
“These nation states gave rise to the kinds of secular governments that we have become used to, governments with constitutions and checks on authority and the ideas of democracy,” Ritter said.
“There were a series of reforms within the Roman Catholic Church happening at the same time as the (Protestant) Reformation that opened up Catholicism considerably to laymen and also called upon priests and religious authorities to remove corruption from Catholic circles and from Catholic churches.”