Happy Halloween! (& Samhain) Ready for Guising?

Photo in public domainWEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 31: Put the finishing touches on your costume and get ready for some—Guising! In Scotland and Ireland, that’s what families call their Trick or Treat custom.

Whether you picture a black-and-white Frankenstein, terrifying legends or just piles of candy, All Hallows’ Eve has arrived. Drawing from an ancient Celtic festival of the dead, Halloween was once regarded as a rare night of the year when spirits of the deceased could return to earth. Think that’s spooky? Imagine the chaos in a centuries-old village, when costumes were worn on Oct. 31 to “fool” the frightening spirits hanging around! Get more historic facts, plus extras like jack-o’-lantern patterns, at History.com.

The October 31 pagan festival, Samhain, bears several similarities to Halloween. While historians still disagree about which came first, modern Pagans and Wiccans now celebrate Samhain and describe it as an ancient feast of the dead.

Beyond Scotland, Ireland and the migration of Scots and Irish to other parts of the world, the tradition of Halloween is fairly new in the long sweep of global culture. Of course, Western influence is potent stuff and “our” images of witches, black cats and trick or treating now have circled the planet. Halloween slowly picked up speed and now is observed as far from the Celtic homeland as Asia and Africa. (Wikipedia has details.) Today, it’s common for children around the world to dress in costume, for adults to hold costume parties and for everyone to try a hand at carving jack-o’-lanterns. In some countries, bonfires and fireworks are common additions to nighttime trick-or-treating.

Decorating your home for Halloween? Get 10 creative ideas for less than $5 at DIY Network. For the more sophistocated crafter, Martha Stewart offers up ideas on homemade decorations. Kids can give it a try with ideas from FamilyFun.

Ancient pagan traditions regard October 31 as a night beyond all nights; the beginning of the dark half of the year; the final harvest, and a space in time when spiritual veils are lifted. Pagans took their beliefs so seriously, in fact, that they would leave food on their home altars and doorsteps for wandering spirits, while setting an extra place at the table for the spirit of a deceased love one. Young and old were strongly discouraged from traveling after dark. Several important events in Irish mythology begin on Samhain.


In Celtic homelands, Halloween-like festivals are as much a part of the culture as rolling Irish hills; in America, however, Halloween is fairly new. The first record of pumpkin carving in America was penned in 1837. Many years later, the first reference to “guising” happened in Canada in 1911, and by the 1930s, so many Americans were trick-or-treating that mass-produced Halloween costumes were introduced in stores. Today, haunted attractions in the U.S. bring in $300-$500 million annually, and billions of pieces of candy are consumed.


Throughout history, some Christian groups have embraced Halloween and its related traditions—while others have rejected it. Many denominations emphasize the Christian traditions of remembering saints and departed souls. Thousands of churches across the United States now mark the holiday with family friendly parties for kids. Some stage “Trunk or Treat” parties in church parking lots in which parishoners park their cars and serve up treats from their trunks to local children in a safe and fun environment. Some churches even decorate their own haunted houses.

Traditional Christian-Halloween lines are evaporating, for the most part. Even the Vatican-appointed exorcist in Rome has also approved Halloween, saying: “If English and American children like to dress up as witches and devils on one night of the year, that is not a problem.” Still, the Vatican has warned Catholics not to become too involved in pagan traditions.


No kidding! Despite some ongoing warnings from traditional Christians, the pop culture fascination with the undead has opened some exciting possibilities for new groups in your congregation. In August, ReadTheSpirit published a series of articles featuring Christian historian and author Clay Morgan. The stories are packed with creative ideas to draw a crowd and highlight important religious themes.


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