As a child I felt very confused about the holiday we call Halloween. On one hand, I heard scathingly detailed reports of its origins as some satanic form of cat-mutilating, soul-snatching festival. However, having been educated (or rather, indoctrinated) in a Roman Catholic elementary school, I was also surrounded with the alternate feastdays of that time - the Roman Catholic holydays of All Saints Day (November 1), and All Souls Day (November 2), the latter of which also happens to be my birthday.
My mother, being the creative person she was, only wanted to be sure I got in on the experience of costumes and candy, and so we spent long hours fashioning Renaissance headdresses from rolled-up newspaper cones, and whipping up frothy princess skirts from old sheer curtain valances. I did go dressed as a witch one year, and that was a mistake - I couldn't fit into the car with that pointed hat, so had to remove it and then replace it each time I got out of the car on a new street.
As usual, the truth about such things as I was told about Halloween perches keenly between the extremes, with a few embellishments and urban legends thrown in for effect, by its opposers.
Apparently the Celts and their Druid priests celebrated Samhain at the end of summer and harvest, which was November 1 - this date began the dark half of the year. They also celebrated the feast of Beltane for the light half, beginning May 1.
The Celts weren't so concerned about devils and demons as they were the humans who had departed this world. They believed that on this night, the dead were being released for a time, and that they could move about doing mischief.
I'm not certain how this translated into going from house to house for treats, but if they came to a house for that treat, and received none, they would most likely play some trick on the inhospitable inhabitants of said home.
The Romans entered this historical mishmash around the first century A.D., by adding their own festivals and practices. Around this same time, word was spreading of Christianity and its new followers. Still later, Catholic leaders persuaded followers to use November 1 as a day to honor the dead saints. The following day was called All Souls Day.
This really cleared things up, right?
Wrong. Here we are just a short time before the year 2000, and we have mixes of all the above feasts and holydays, plus somehow in all of this, some satanist groups decided to use Halloween night as a special night for their own celebration. And there are pagan groups wishing the rest of us would leave the night alone altogether and let them have it back, if they can be said to have owned it in the first place.
The idea of the dead and the living communicating is a bit strange to a few of us anyway, since groups such as the church I belong to basically believe the dead are in (somewhat) a state of sleep and so they can not communicate with us at all. We believe their consciousness will not return until the second coming of Christ. (You may have a different view - I'm just stating mine to explain that not everyone thinks communication with the dead is even possible, much less something to fear).
And then there are the children, with their Batman masks and treat bags, ringing your doorbell and waiting for that bit of candy.
Does anyone really think they care about Druids and Celts, Samhain and Beltane, and whether or not that pumpkin they just carved is related to the turnips our ancient pagan ancestors carved way back then?
And should we set the little ones down right now and tell them they can't go and do any of this trick-or-treating anymore because it is an inherited practice from an ancient people who worshipped in a different manner than we might now?
For all you really righteous adults who just answered, "Yes!" out there, I would remind you that not a few of our Christian adult rituals and practices have roots in paganism. Do a little research on the early meanings and uses of things like Christmas trees, circular jewelry, crosses, the fowl "wishbone", bonfires, and Sunday. But many of those things no longer hold the original meaning for most people. Before you deny the children their costumes and candy, search your own motives.
If we give up everything we have because it has some distant connection to paganism, and we don't want to be considered pagan, we will be surprised to find what we must discard.
While you work on that task, let the kids have their fun.