As a Jewish man, who was born in Jerusalem, I never found it exciting to deal with pure pagan rituals that have to do with dead people. While people around the world call it Halloween, in Israel, we call it “The All Saints’ Night”. Saints? Is there anything holy here? In the past few years, while investigating the pagan roots of Christmas, I stumbled upon the unholy alliance of pagan holidays with catholic traditions that gave birth to something even more destructive – the “godly” appearance of a pure satanic ritual. The verse that came to mind, even though it wasn’t necessarily written for cases like this, was:

“…having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away!” (2 Timothy 3:5)

Halloween’s origins date back to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced sow-in). The Celts, who lived 2,000 years ago, mostly in the area that is now Ireland, the United Kingdom, and northern France, celebrated their new year on November 1. The Old Testament reveals to us a sad and similar account of Israel during the days of the prophet Ezekiel. In Ezekiel 8:14, God supernaturally revealed to the prophet some of the secret sins of the nation of Israel. One of these sins is their lamentation for a pagan god named Tammuz. Who was Tammuz, and why would women be weeping for him?
The New Encyclopedia Britannica wrote in the article titled “Tammuz“: “in Mesopotamian religion, god of fertility embodying the powers for new life in nature in the spring” (Vol. 11, p. 532).The cult of Tammuz centered around two yearly festivals, one celebrating his marriage to the goddess Inanna, and the other lamenting his death at the hands of demons from the netherworld. During the 3rd dynasty of Ur (c. 2112—c. 2004 BC) in the city of Umma (modern Tell Jokha), the marriage of the god was dramatically celebrated in February—March, Umma’s month of the Festival of Tammuz. What does the worship of Tammuz have to do with the sign of the cross? According to historian Alexander Hislop, Tammuz was intimately associated with the Babylonian mystery religions begun by the worship of Nimrod, Semiramis, and her illegitimate son, Horus. The original form of the Babylonian letter T was † (tau), identical to the crosses used today in this world’s Christianity. This was the initial of Tammuz. Referring to this sign of Tammuz, Hislop writes:

That mystic Tau was marked in baptism on the foreheads of those initiated into the Mysteries. ..The Vestal virgins of Pagan Rome wore it suspended from their necklaces, as the nuns do now. There is hardly a Pagan tribe where the cross has not been found.”

Interestingly enough, the timing of Christmas as well, is closely associated with the ancient pagan worship. If we traveled to the ancient world, we would find some kind of celebration at that time, in many places, each at first independent of the others. For the ancient Romans, that holiday was called Saturnalia, named for the god Saturn. Saturnalia was celebrated by feasts, the giving of gifts, and a brief sense of equality through role-reversal as the masters tended to the servants. The ancient historian, Livy, tells us that Saturnalia began in 497 BC. Modern historians believe it probably started earlier than that. So, at least half a millennium after the origin of Saturnalia, Jesus Christ was born. His birth was not initially a holiday, because birthdays were not then celebrated in Jewish culture. It would be a few centuries until early church leaders decided it was a day to put on the calendar and commemorate. It would also be a few centuries until they decided to pick a day for that celebration, because the gospels do not tell us on what day he was born.

On December 25, 274 AD, the Emperor Aurelian consecrated the temple of Sol Invictus, creating a holiday called Dies Natalis Solis Invicti – the birthday of the Sun – officially elevating the Sun to the highest position among the gods – nudging a steering current towards monotheism.
Around 350 AD, Pope Julius I officially declared December 25 to mark the birth of Christ. There was no evidence that was the actual day of birth, to the contrary, the gospel of Luke, says:
“And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.”

Shepherds watch their flock by night during the lambing season, which is the spring. But there’s no rule that says a day of celebration has to coincide with the actual date of origin. In Britain, celebration of the Queen’s birthday is on June 9 instead of her actual birthday of April 21, because April showers bring May flowers.

So, in Rome in the fourth century, there were three big holidays being celebrated on December 25 – Saturnalia, Dies Natalis Sol Invictus, and the Dies Natalis of the Christ. It’s only natural that elements from these celebrations would cross-pollinate each other, especially when they fit so well – for example, the gift giving of Saturnalia could be adopted by Christians as symbolic of their God giving his only son to them as a gift on that day.

As Rome faded and Christianity grew, the people that celebrated those holidays would take their traditions to new areas. As those early Christians moved into northern Europe and introduced Christmas to the native Germanic peoples, the practices of Christmas were influenced by the practices of those peoples for their winter solstice holidays. Over time, traditions like the Yule log, mistletoe, tree decorating, and evergreen wreaths were absorbed and became thought of as Christmas traditions. The Saxons, the Vikings, the Victorians, and the capitalists have all added traditions to the rich tapestry of the holiday we all call Christmas.


Back to Halloween. Between October 31 and November 1, this day marked the end of summer and the harvest and the beginning of the dark, cold winter-a time of year that was often associated with human death. Celts believed that on the night before the new year, the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead became blurred. On the night of October 31, they celebrated Samhain, when it was believed that the ghosts of the dead returned to earth.

In addition to causing trouble and damaging crops, Celts thought that the presence of the otherworldly spirits made it easier for the Druids, or Celtic priests, to make predictions about the future. For a people entirely dependent on the volatile natural world, these prophecies were an important source of comfort during the long, dark winter.

To commemorate the event, Druids built huge sacred bonfires, where the people gathered to burn crops and animals as sacrifices to the Celtic deities. During the celebration, the Celts wore costumes, typically consisting of animal heads and skins, and attempted to tell each other’s fortunes. When the celebration was over, they re-lit their hearth fires, which they had extinguished earlier that evening, from the sacred bonfire to help protect them during the coming winter. By 43 A.D., the Roman Empire had conquered the majority of Celtic territory. In the course of the 400 years that they ruled the Celtic lands, two festivals of Roman origin were combined with the traditional Celtic celebration of Samhain. The first was Feralia, a day in late October when the Romans traditionally commemorated the passing of the dead. The second was a day to honor Pomona, the Roman goddess of fruit and trees. The symbol of Pomona is the apple, and the incorporation of this celebration into Samhain probably explains the tradition of bobbing for apples that is practiced today on Halloween. On May 13, 609 A.D., Pope Boniface IV dedicated the Pantheon in Rome in honor of all Christian martyrs, and the Catholic feast of All Martyrs Day was established in the Western church. Pope Gregory III later expanded the festival to include all saints as well as all martyrs, and moved the observance from May 13 to November 1.

By the 9th century, the influence of Christianity had spread into Celtic lands, where it gradually blended with and supplanted older Celtic rites. In 1000 A.D., the church made November 2 All Souls’ Day, a day to honor the dead. It’s widely believed today that the church was attempting to replace the Celtic festival of the dead with a related, church-sanctioned holiday. All Souls’ Day was celebrated similarly to Samhain, with big bonfires, parades and dressing up in costumes as saints, angels and devils. The All Saints’ Day celebration was also called All-hallows or All-hallowmas (from Middle English Alholowmesse meaning All Saints’ Day) and the night before it, the traditional night of Samhain in the Celtic religion, began to be called All-Hallows Eve and, eventually, Halloween.

In The Facts on Halloween, Published by Harvest House Publishers in 2008, the authors further exposed the historic Catholic thread that runs throughout this pagan holiday:

Trick or Treating:

The idea of trick-or-treating is further related to the ghosts of the dead in pagan, and even Catholic, history. For example, among the ancient Druids, “The ghosts that were thought to throng about the houses of the living were greeted with a banquet-laden table. At the end of the feast, masked and costumed villagers representing the souls of the dead paraded to the outskirts of town leading the ghosts away.”

As already noted, Halloween was thought to be a night when mischievous and evil spirits roamed freely. As in modern poltergeist lore, mischievous spirits could play tricks on the living—so it was advantageous to “hide” from them by wearing costumes. Masks and costumes were worn to either scare away the ghosts or to keep from being recognized by them:

In Ireland especially, people thought that ghosts and spirits roamed after dark on Halloween. They lit candles or lanterns to keep the spirits away, and if they had to go outside, they wore costumes and masks to frighten the spirits or to keep from being recognized by these unearthly beings.


Besides the reasons given above, Halloween masks and costumes were used to hide one’s attendance at pagan festivals or—as in traditional shamanism (mediated by a witch doctor or pagan priest) and other forms of animism—to change the personality of the wearer to allow for communication with the spirit world. Here, costumes could be worn to ward off evil spirits. On the other hand, the costume wearer might use a mask to try to attract and absorb the power of the animal represented by the mask and costume worn. According to this scenario, Halloween costumes may have originated with the Celtic Druid ceremonial participants, who wore animal heads and skins to acquire the strength of a particular animal.

An additional layer of tradition explaining the origin of Halloween costumes comes from the medieval Catholic practice of displaying the relics of saints on All Saints’ Day: “The poorer churches could not afford relics and so instituted a procession with parishioners dressed as the patron saints; the extras dressed as angels or devils and everyone paraded around the churchyard.”

Going from door to door seeking treats may result from the Druidic practice of begging material for the great bonfires. As we will see later, it is also related to the Catholic concept of purgatory and the custom of begging for a “soul cake.”

Updated Edition
Copyright © 1996/2008 by The John Ankerberg Theological Research Institute
Published by Harvest House Publishers
Eugene, Oregon 97408


Having just visited Brazil’s Rio de Janeiro, I find it interesting that even there, the famous annual carnival has to do with pagan practices enhanced by Catholic tradition. According to the carnival website:

“In order to understand the Carnival history in Rio de Janeiro, you have to go back in time, when the Greeks often held festivities in homage to Dionysus, the god of wine. The Romans then adopted this tradition by drinking all day and masters swapped clothes with soldiers in reverence to their gods Bacchus and Saturnalia. The Church might balk at the garish spectacle, but economics play a huge part in the modern extravaganza. The original purpose, as can be learned from the Carnival history, was for Catholics to celebrate before subjecting themselves to a 40-day of sacrifice until Easter.” (A completely false picture of godliness. They saw their time of sacrifice as a burden, so they partied to make up for it).

So what is it that we can find in common between the pagan practices of Tammuz by Israel, the pagan practices of the Celts, the Romans, and the Catholic Church throughout history?

They all forsook God and His Word, and found pleasure in the things of the world and the desires of the flesh! This is exactly why they hid behind alternate clothing and engaged in explicit sexual practices, among many other things-as in the days of Noah!

To the church in Rome, the Apostle Paul reviewed the process by which humanity has wound up in a state of such moral decay, and that is because of their rejection of the Creator and worship of the creation! Instead of recognizing the Lord God as the Creator of all things and as the One who has put an order to all of His creation, humanity has rejected Him. The mourning of Tammuz by the women of Israel 2500 years ago is no different. They were relying on a false god to provide their needs rather than the God who had proven Himself as their Provider time and time again. Over 500 years later, Paul stated:

Romans 1:21-23

“because, although they (humanity) knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things.

Pastor Barry Stagner once said, “God is not open to human amendments to His moral code. If you reject God as Creator, complete moral failure is sure to follow.”

As believers, we shouldn’t be surprised when unbelievers celebrate a day like Halloween. We don’t expect unbelievers to act like believers. That being said, it is our responsibility to make the most of every opportunity (Ephesians 5:16). The world’s hope is in what pleasures they can indulge in during this lifetime. The same is not true of you. You recognize that every material thing in this world is going to fade. The world hopes in what they can see and experience in the here and now. Your hope is in what is yet to be revealed, as Titus states:

Titus 2:11-13

For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ,

Halloween is an opportunity to “give an account for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15).

This is where the words of the apostle Paul to the church in Ephesus should echo in our ears:

Ephesians 5:8-14

For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, righteousness, and truth), finding out what is acceptable to the Lord. And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of those things which are done by them in secret. But all things that are exposed are made manifest by the light, for whatever makes manifest is light. Therefore He says:

“Awake, you who sleep,
Arise from the dead,
And Christ will give you light.”

Awaiting His Return,