On Oct. 31, the ancient Gaels celebrated the pagan feast of Samhain, wearing masks or costumes and lighting bonfires to appease the evil spirits of the dead. Although Samhain is no longer an Irish feast, secular society celebrates Halloween and Christians celebrate the eve of All Saints on the same day. The connection between these events is one way to explain the meaning of Halloween, an originally Christian feast now celebrated with pagan symbols, to Christian children.
Explain the religious etymology of Halloween. The word comes from “All Hallows Eve,” which refers to the evening before the Christian feast of All Saints Day. From the Christian perspective, Halloween began as a religious celebration, a way to deepen one's faith and celebrate the saints, including those who haven’t been officially recognized by the church.
Talk to the children about pagan influences on Halloween. Pope Gregory IV placed the feast of All Saints the day after Samhain. Halloween therefore coincides with the pagan feast. The ancient Gaelic people believed that the dead came back to life on that day each year to wreak havoc. The pagan celebration emphasized the realm of the dead and favored belief in ghosts, witches and goblins. Christians also have a day for the dead, All Souls Day, every Nov. 2. It is lived in prayer for the eternal rest of the departed. The secular celebration on Oct. 31 has merged the Christian name, Halloween, with ancient pagan imagery. Halloween traditions like trick-or-treating, carving jack-o’-lanterns and wearing costumes evolved from practices associated with Samhain.
Tell the children that they can still celebrate Halloween in a Christian way. Having an All Saints Day party, dressing up like a saint, winning candy in a contest about the saints or carving pumpkins with Christian symbols are activities that help children enjoy the feast without participating in pagan practices.