Of Ghosts and Vampires: Phantom Pains in the Neck

By Sage Pitman

     Your neighborhood is probably a lot like mine on Halloween. Neighbors, once thought to be hermits, slink out of their houses to spin cotton spiderwebs in the shrubbery and string orange lights on the porch. Three-footers skitter up to front doors and squeak, “Trick or Treat!” while patient parents wait with hands in pockets.


Looking down the street reveals front yards with zombie apocalypses, inflatable spiders and witches, faulty porch lights and steam. Yet there are several houses with dark windows; the porches unlit and without holiday decoration. One of these is my house.


We have never celebrated Halloween or gone neighborhood trick-or-treating. Instead, we used to go to the Hallelujah Fest at church, in costume, and play carnival games to win candy out of twenty-gallon buckets. I remember finishing each Hallelujah Fest I ever attended by crawling in an empty bucket and waiting for my Sunday school teachers to pick me up and run around the old sanctuary. Because of this tradition, I loved October 31st.


Unfortunately, I knew very little about the holiday when I was younger. I was told—as many kids were—that Halloween is a hallowing of evil. Several students I talked to also believe this to be true. “It’s like the devil’s holiday. That’s what they say,” fifth grader Caleb Baker said.


Headmaster Robert Lee believes some of the costumes can be associated with evil, and offers the solution to “dress up like a Biblical character or somebody who’s on the side of good.”


In addition to conflicts over the meaning of Halloween, students were also unsure about the origins of the holiday. “Actually, this was supposed to be a holiday for Mexico, the Day of the Dead. When [the United States] tried to do it, it kinda ended up doing stuff that wasn’t the Day of the Dead at all; it went creepy,” fifth grader Emma Hamilton said.


Halloween dissenter and fifth grader Anna Nisbet has very strong opinions about celebrations on October 31st. “It’s not a Christian holiday, it’s a different religion of holidays,” Nisbet said. She referred to other holidays like Day of the Dead as being disrespected by the “creepy things” glorified during Halloween.


After several extremely conflicting answers, I began to research the origins of Halloween for myself through history.com.


Two thousand years ago, the Celts believed that the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead were blurred during autumn harvest. Celts praised the spirits because they believed that it was easier when spirits were in the physical world for Druids, or Celtic priests, to make prophecies of which they heavily relied upon for comfort and direction during the long, dark winter.  


By 43 A.D., the Roman Empire had conquered most of the Celtic territory, and the tradition was inactive until 609 A.D. when Pope Boniface IV decreed that November 1st would be All Martyrs Day, which honored martyrs of the Roman Catholic Church. Pope Gregory III later amended the holiday to include saints and renamed it All Saints Day. The name ‘Halloween’ is derived from All Saints Day. As October 31st is the eve of All Saints Day, or Hallows Eve, and e’en is a contraction of evening, so ‘Halloween’ most directly means “the night before All Saints Day.”


Costumes most likely originated from the Celtic Festival of Samhain in which the Celts would attempt to deter evil spirits entering alongside good spirits by wearing animal skins.


Halloween is no longer an honored precursor to All Saints Day, nor as a festival for spirits from the world of the dead. I believe that few people take the holiday to be one of warding off spirits, and therefore I am unsure if the celebratory activities are really pagan or simply themed after an American spin on a pagan holiday. Even so, there are students who disagree that it is a pagan holiday or one that is inappropriate for children.


“I think the belief that Christians all think Halloween is the “devil’s holiday” is just not true. I spent Halloween with my youth pastor passing out candy and sharing coffee with their neighbors. What matters is if you’re loving one another and glorifying God,” twelfth grader Bethany Lee stated.


For seventh grader Vandad Shojaei, whether or not you celebrate Halloween should depend on your age. “I think the little kids should because they don’t understand the concept of good or bad yet.”


Halloween enthusiast and seventh grader Drew Fields thinks “it’s fun to hang out and get candy and dress up and stuff, but we do Halloween mostly for the younger kids.” This may be true, but most of the immediate upper school thoughts on why they enjoy celebrating followed that of eighth grader Sam Schmidt: “Because candy.”


93% of the upper school student body either goes or supports trick-or-treating. Yet 62% of upper school students don’t celebrate any more than the candy and costumes. Through further research, I found that trick-or-treating itself is not pagan and is only implicitly associated with Halloween.


Another potential predecessor of trick-or-treating is Guy Fawkes Night which was established in 1606. Guy Fawkes was a convicted British man who conspired with others to bomb England’s parliament building and dethrone the Protestant King James I. On Guy Fawkes Night, children would dress in masks and carry effigies of Fawkes while mockingly begging for “a penny for the Guy!”


In the 1920s, destructive, and later violent, pranks were popular because the economic turmoil of the Great Depression provided many vacant buildings and houses, thus the ‘trick’ part of “trick or treat.”


On October 31, 1952, the Peanut’s comic strip created the very door-to-door trick-or-treat experience in which Charlie Brown demands that Peppermint Patty give him and his friend “Tricks or treats, money or eats!”

But Disney actually coined the term “trick or treat” on October 10, 1952, in a cartoon starring Donald Duck and his nephews.


Personally, I don’t think trick-or-treating is irreligious in that it has very little to do with the pagan origins of Halloween. Lower school language arts teacher John Murray believes that some aspects of this holiday are unnecessary. “The holiday is not what it used to be. Originally, people prayed for the loss of loved ones and I think that can be celebrated. But I think the other aspects of it we probably should ignore,” Murray said.


“It’s a wonderful opportunity to meet your neighbors,” upper school teacher Stuart Paul said regarding trick-or-treating. “If it offends your conscience, please don’t do it. If you do celebrate these things, do it in a God-honoring way.”


Upper school teacher Stuart Paul poses with his wife, Abby, dressed as Garth Algar and Wayne Campbell from Wayne’s World on October 31, 2016.


As for me, I think one can celebrate Halloween in non-pagan ways. Mr. Lee used to spend October 31st “at prayer meetings downtown.” Since I’ve long outgrown the Hallelujah Fest, I spent the holiday at work, in costume, and then completed homework with Netflix intermissions. It’s not my belief that all Halloween activities are wrong. Dressing up for candy, in that it wasn’t part of the traditional pagan celebrations, is entirely fine by me. But until I find a worthy reason to celebrate any further than abnormal clothing and sugar, I will probably just begin my own traditions.


Any opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily views upheld by Christ Covenant School’s faculty, board, or student body as a whole. For an open discussion forum on this issue, contact Sage Pitman at laurelsagepitman@gmail.com.