Is Halloween evil? Busting that and 4 other myths about All Hallows' Eve.
The United Church of God would have us believe that Halloween is evil. It's hard to say, though, what that even means.
On Halloween, Americans will purchase roughly six whole Titanics' worth of candy, and eat an average of 3.4 pounds of candy per head. Bad for our health, certainly, but not necessarily evil. When Halloween falls on a weekend, alcohol consumption can surge by as much as 30%, but that's not necessarily evil, either. Modern Halloween is a celebration of consumer culture on which the country spends billions, but whether or not that qualifies as evil depends on an individual's subjective definition of the word. And people might put on questionable costumes — even sexist and racist costumes — but that still doesn't seem to be the reason why people turn to Google to answer the question, "Is Halloween evil?"
No: The question seems to have more to do with the notion that Halloween is a celebration of Satan and dark arts. Let's bust that — and some other persistent myths about the October holiday.
Halloween is about costumes and candy.
Modern Halloween may be defined by trick-or-treating, but its roots are buried in the ritualistic. Halloween may have derived from the Celtic Samhain festival, a celebration of the year's end on Oct. 31. People believed the departed, as well as fairies and demons, roamed the Earth on this day, and so they lit bonfires to keep those spirits at bay.
According to History.com, Pope Gregory III commandeered some of those pagan rites when he named Nov. 1 "All Saints' Day." Oct. 31 became "All Hallows' Eve," and the tradition of dressing up to ward off spirits became the tradition of dressing up to get treats — in exchange for prayers and performances in honor of the dead.
In North America, Puritan values suppressed Halloween festivities, and according to History.com, Oct. 31 was more a celebration of the autumn harvest than anything else. Those celebrations grew to include swapping spooky stories and "mischief-making of all kinds," but more in the southern regions than in New England.
It took the immigration waves of the late 19th century to popularize trick-or-treating in the U.S., people in costume going door-to-door in search of food or money. The ghostly element lingered, as did the opportunities for mischief the holiday afforded, according to History.com.
By the 1920s and 1930s, Halloween had become the secular holiday we know today. Trick-or-treating took a hiatus during World War II, when sugar became scarce, only to return in the post-war boom. It hasn't really changed since.
Which is sad, because all the candies are poisoned candies.
According to Snopes, most alarms raised about poisoned Halloween candy end up being false — the result of doctors misreading autopsy reports, the media jumping to the conclusion that candy collected trick-or-treating must be to blame or just kids getting into things they shouldn't.
Perhaps the most notable case of Halloween-related poisoning — the one that, according to a 1999 Washington Post article, planted the myth into peoples' minds — is the murder of 8-year-old Timothy Marc O'Bryan by his father, Ronald Clark O'Bryan, with one of five giant, cyanide-laced Pixy Stix the so-called Candyman distributed on Oct. 31, 1974. O'Bryan was allegedly looking to collect on his son's $20,000 life insurance policy, although he never copped to the crime.
While the poison candy claims are unsubstantiated, the same cannot be said for the old razor-blade-in-the-apple legend. According to Snopes, there have been a handful of reports of pins, needles and razor blades over the years: New Jersey saw 13 blade-laden apples during Halloween 1968 alone. But these seem largely to have been gags designed to mildly injure consumers, and none has ever proved fatal.
Sociology and criminal justice professor Joel Best investigated reports of "Halloween sadism" — candy tampering — from 1958 to 1983 and was unable to find any instances in which an evildoer killed anyone with deadly trick-or-treats. It's simply not a thing worth worrying about.
Halloween pumpkins are for smashing.
Halloween pumpkins are not for smashing, you monsters; they're for lighting a lost soul's way out of hell. Or, they symbolize as much — at least in their original conception.
Given that Halloween is rooted in Celtic traditions, it makes sense that its mascot — that Jack-o'-Lantern — would also have Irish origins. According to PumpkinNook.com, as credible a source as one could ask for on pumpkin-related matters, the practice of putting candles in carved pumpkins harkens back to one Stingy Jack, "a miserable, old drunk" in PumpkinNook.com's estimation, who enjoyed pranking just about everyone — even the devil.
In life, Stingy Jack manipulated the devil into climbing a tree and then blanketed the ground at its base with crosses, effectively trapping Satan on his perch. In death, Stingy Jack paid for his hijinx and his insouciance: Saint Peter denied him entry into heaven — and the devil, who had not forgotten old wounds, told Stingy Jack to get lost when he presented himself at the gates of hell. Stingy Jack was trapped in the in-between with only an ember, given to him by the devil, to light his way. Stingy Jack crammed the ember inside a turnip he happened to have on his person, and behold, the Jack-o'-lantern was born.
In adherence with national lore, Irish Jack-o'-lanterns were made out of turnips and other root vegetables. In the U.S., Irish immigrants encountered pumpkins, deemed them easier to work with, and traded their turnips for pumpkins, according to PumpkinNook.com.
Halloween is a Satanist holiday.
While some devout Christians would have you believe that Halloween is a celebration of Satan, it's not really the case.
Satanists do not see Halloween as Satan's birthday party, or even a day specifically for devil worship. Instead, they seem to regard Halloween as an adult regards a child doing something dumb, but sort of cute.
"We see this holiday as the night when the mundane folk try to reach down inside and touch the 'darkness,' which, for Satanists, is a daily mode of existence," writes whoever answers the frequently asked questions on ChurchOfSatan.com, continuing:
Satanists embrace what this holiday has become, and do not feel the need to be tied to ancient practices. This night, we smile at the amateur explorers of their own inner darkness, for we know that they enjoy their brief dip into the pool of the "shadow world." We encourage their tenebrous fantasies, the candied indulgence, and the wide-ranging evocation of our aesthetics (while tolerating some of the chintzy versions), even if it is but once a year. For the rest of the time, when those not of our meta-tribe shake their heads in wonder at us, we can point out that they may find some understanding by examining their own All Hallows' Eve doings, but we generally find it simpler to just say: "Think of 'The Addams Family' and you'll begin to see what we're about."
Which is to say, on Halloween, Satanists humor the rest of us. And it's important to note that Satanists don't believe in Satan — or anything, really, except for the power of working hard for oneself. Satanists see Halloween as an autumnal solstice and respect your right to celebrate it however you damn well please; it doesn't concern them.