Opinion: Halloween should be recognized as a religious holiday

Melinda Burgin

Halloween is generally associated with spooky movies, fall weather, fun costumes and candy; it is not thought of as a holiday with any religious significance. But Halloween’s origins lay in some of the most significant Pagan festivals.  

In the Celtic festival of Samhain, it is believed that the barrier between the spiritual and physical worlds are at their thinnest at the time when autumn shifts to winter.  To ward off evil spirits, celebrators made jack-o-lanterns and dressed up as monsters. The holiday was eventually co-opted by the Catholic church as its influence spread to Ireland, and renamed to All Hallows Eve, though many kept up the original customs and significance.  As Irish people immigrated to the United States in droves during the early 1800s, they brought their traditions with them, and Americans eventually adopted them as the Halloween we know today.  

Despite Halloween’s changing meaning over the years, for many it has not lost its original significance. There is also a thriving Pagan community within Illinois Wesleyan University, including a Recognized Student Organization (RSO). Interfaith meets weekly to provide education about various religious beliefs in order to promote awareness and respect around such topics. 

The prevalence of these beliefs raises the question of why its presence and holidays are still so little known and regarded with significance. Discrimination against those practicing the Pagain faith is quite common in the United States, and frequently revolves around the delegimitization of Paganism itself as a religion. Much of this originates in Paganism’s historic association with “witchcraft,” or Satanic customs, a concept originating in a Christian worldview revolving around the opposition of God and the devil.  

The discrimination against Paganism is just one examples that supports that despite the valuable religious diversity present in our campus community, as well as the country as a whole, cultural norms still overwhelmingly center the Christian faith.  From the schedule of holiday breaks and Sunday being regarded as a universal day off, to the language of nondenominational prayers centering a Christian view of God. Those practicing religions that fall outside of this structure frequently struggle to be respected and accommodated. Those who celebrate Pagan holidays or those of other lesser known religions may have a difficult time being excused from class to observe their holiday. 

The perception of Christian values as universal also influences the political sphere, and human rights issues.  Many policies embracing only the traditional family structure of a man and a woman, as well as those advocating against abortion and birth control rights, rely heavily on arguments of inherent morality or immorality in these actions.  The definitions of morality backing these arguments usually come solely from the traditional beliefs of the Christian faith, delegitimizing morals coming from different cultures or belief systems.  

The American customs of Halloween are here to stay, and they are admittedly a lot of fun. But this Halloween, I would like to challenge those celebrating to also take some time to learn about an unfamiliar religion or culture. Education about a variety of worldviews is one crucial step to creating a culture that includes and welcomes all, a step that we all have the power to participate in.  

According to the most recent Pell survey, there are more than one million practicing Pagans in the United States alone, and it is a rapidly growing faith.