In case you missed it Kirk Cameron (onetime star of the TV show Growing Pains) said something about Halloween and President Obama the other day. That Cameron doesn’t understand the historical underpinnings of Halloween (and Samhain) isn’t much of a surprise. Cameron also doesn’t believe in evolution and thinks the Earth is only a few thousand years old.
However, as various liberal “news” websites began piling on Cameron it was obvious to me that they were just as ill-informed as old Mike Seaver.* The most quoted and ridiculed part of Cameron’s recent interview with the Christian Post was this little bit where he talked about the origins of Halloween:
“The real origins have a lot to do with All Saints Day and All Hallows Eve . . . If you go back to old church calendars, especially Catholic calendars, they recognize the holiday All Saints Day, with All Hallows Eve the day before, when they would remember the dead. That’s all tied in to Halloween.”
The most surprising thing here is that he’s actually right (mostly), which is probably something new for Cameron. Halloween does have a lot to do with those Catholic holidays and many of the traditions we associate with the holidays are Catholic in origin too. All Saint’s Day was originally celebrated in May and wasn’t moved to its present position for several centuries. Even in the one country where Samhain was mentioned by name (Ireland), All Saints’ was celebrated in May. People also didn’t really remember “the dead” on All Saints’ Day, they would have done that on All Souls’ Day, which was celebrated on November 2 (and like All Saints’ was originally celebrated in May).
Today’s piece about Cameron over at The Wonkette was completely over the top and also showed that they don’t have much of a grip on the holiday’s origins:
Old church calendars! And All Saints’ Day has been celebrated on Nov. 1 from the earliest days of Christianity, going back all the way to… um, the 8th Century. And there is absolutely no connection between that holiday and the Celtic festival of Samhain, which predates Christianity, but probably not really because historians always lie about Jesus to make Him look bad.
And any connections between the samhain myths of the dead coming back to walk the earth and Christian celebrations of All Souls’ Day (Nov. 2) are also completely coincidental. Don’t even try to make a connection just because that holiday only entered the Christian calendar in the 11th century. You wouldn’t insult Jesus by suggesting, like a bunch of historians do, that the early Church borrowed stuff from pagan sources, would you? Kirk Cameron says that isn’t so, and anyone who knows as much about history and bananas as he does is not to be trifled with.
All Saints’ is thought to predate the Eighth Century, though it was moved from May to November during that period of time. In addition to being unable to do the simplest of internet searches Wonkette doesn’t seem to understand time very well. Ireland was effectively Christianized by the year 500 CE, which means there’s a period of about 250 years in there where All Saint’s Day is being celebrated in May. That’s a huge span of years.
Also it seems doubtful that the Catholic Church would have relocated a holiday simply because they were trying to sway a few Irish-Pagan-Celts (who would have already been Christianized most likely). Samhain was not a universal tradition practiced by every “pagan.” There were dozens of varieties of ancient paganisms of which “Celtic” was simply one (and perhaps even several as the Celts most likely varied their traditions from region to region).
Rawstory rebuked Cameron in the following way:
“Historians universally recognize Halloween’s origins as dating back to the Celtic festival of Samhain, in which the ghosts of the dead were said to return to Earth for one night. It wasn’t until over 600 years later that Pope Boniface IV incorporated the pagan festival into the tradition of All Martyrs Day. And historians believe that the church created the All Saints Day celebration 400 years later in an attempt to replace the festival of Samhain.”
The idea that Samhain had something to do with the souls of the dead is an ancient tradition, if you think the 1890’s constitute an ancient tradition. It was first suggested by Sir James Frazier (author of The Golden Bough) and has been repeated ever since. The truth is that we know very little about ancient Samhain. Real historians who have actually done the research will attest to this. I know that most people don’t know a whole lot about how our holidays evolved, but if the point of your article is to mock someone, you’d better be sure that you are right and have got your ducks all lined up in a row.
While Cameron got a bit of his tale correct much of the rest of it was wrong. Like this little gem:
“Early on, Christians would dress up in costumes as the devil, ghosts, goblins and witches precisely to make the point that those things were defeated and overthrown by the resurrected Jesus Christ. The costumes poke fun at the fact that the devil and other evils were publicly humiliated by Christ at His resurrection. That’s what the Scriptures say, that He publicly humiliated the devil when He triumphed over power and principality and put them under his feet.”
Halloween dress-up probably comes from a number of sources, including some ancient pagan elements as well as the Christian tradition of holiday-time masquerades. However the costumes were never worn to “poke fun” at the Devil or laugh in the face of witches, ghosts, and goblins. In fact laughing was never a part of any ancient Halloween or Samhain celebration. The one thing we do know about Samhain was that it was a night when supernatural forces reigned supreme. That belief was directly incorporated into later Halloween celebrations. One thing Halloween has always been about is fear.
Cameron continues in the interview:
“Over time you get some pagans who want to go this is our day, high holy day of Satanic church, that this is all about death, but Christians have always known since the first century that death was defeated, that the grave was overwhelmed, that ghosts, goblins, devils are foolish has-beens who used to be in power but not anymore. That’s the perspective Christians should have.”
Everything in this quote shows extreme diarrhea of the mouth. Christians right up until the modern day have been afraid of devils, goblins, and ghosts, and that fear often manifested on Halloween. To the Christian of the Middle Ages the night was full of terrors, and things didn’t really change until the 20th Century. If Christians “knew” that evil had been defeated its a shame they’ve never acted like it. As for “pagans” and “high holy day(s)” of the Satanic Church I have no idea what Cameron is talking about. Is he calling ancient Celtic-pagans Satanists for celebrating their holiday? Is he calling Modern Pagans Satanists for liking Halloween?
Over at Jezebel their article on Cameron closed with these remarks:
“Obviously, All Saints’ Day has been parked on the Christian calendar for a very long time. But let’s be clear who invented what has since evolved into Halloween: not Christianity.”
I like the sentiment that ancient pagans essentially “invented” Halloween, but let’s be honest. We don’t know enough about ancient Samhain to say such a thing, and many of the traditions involved with the holiday came much (much) later. Every holiday on the calendar is a combination of several things. All the Christian ones involve some pagan elements, but they also have lots of secular influences too. No one group owns any holiday. If Cameron wants to think Christians invented Halloween let him go ahead. Maybe that will get them to the party and they’ll stop trying to ruin our good time (and maybe they’ll get something spiritual out of it too).
Of course if Kirk has his way many Christians will continue to destroy Halloween simply by handing out gospel tracts instead of candy:
“Halloween gives you a great opportunity to show how Christians celebrate the day that death was defeated, and you can give them Gospel tracts and tell the story of how every ghost, goblin, witch and demon was trounced the day Jesus rose from the grave. Clearly no Christians ought to be glorifying death, because death was defeated, and that was the point of All Hallows Eve.”
I’m much more worried about Cameron ruining Halloween with Chick Tracts than I am with his thoughts on Halloween. Halloween (and by extension Samhain) means different things to different people. There’s no one “right” or “wrong” way to celebrate the holiday. Every holiday is essentially a personal celebration and will be interpreted differently by everyone celebrating it. And by the way Kirk, I’m one Witch that hasn’t been “trounced” since Jesus rose from his grave, and I’m not alone.
*If you are unaware that Cameron played the character of Mike Seaver on Growing Pains you obviously had better taste in television than I did growing up.