What is Harvest Day and Did It Replace Halloween?

Christians Turn Halloween into Harvest Day

Year after year, thousands of children across America go door to door in their neighborhoods, hoping to bring in a bigger bag of loot than their fellow tricksters. Dressed in costumes and make-up to disguise their identity, and carrying pillowcases and plastic jack-o-lantern buckets, children of all ages hit the streets after dusk to participate in the annual Halloween activity of trick-or-treating.

But few children know how this peculiar tradition started, and even fewer understand how Halloween came to be a national holiday. However, the Christian community has become increasingly aware of not only its origins, but also its implications. As a positive alternative, many have chosen to celebrate Harvest Day in its place. (See Harvest Day: An Alternative to Halloween)

The celebration of Halloween originated from the Celtic festival called Samhain, held at the end of each harvest season, and often observed as the Celtic New Year. According to tradition, it was during this time that people would slaughter livestock and take inventory of other supplies to prepare for the winter season. These duties were religiously followed, as it was believed that October 31 was when the separation between the living and the dead disappeared, and those who were living were potentially subject to sickness, infant death or damaged crops caused by the spirits of the dead. The Samhain festivals were a way of entertaining the spirits to prevent such tragedies.

Bonfires were a common practice throughout the festivals, as they believed it helped the spirits find their way to the villages. It was on these fires that the bones of the slaughtered livestock were thrown, to fuel the flames. The people believed that the evil spirits could be pacified by both the fires, and by the costumes and masks of animal heads and skins worn by the participants. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Halloween)

The popularity of this type of festival began to increase, and was adopted by many of the different pagan cultures throughout northern Europe. The term Halloween came from the celebration of All-hallow-even, or the eve of All Hallows' Day, also known as All Saints Day. In Roman Catholicism, All Saints Day was a celebration that honored all the saints, known and unknown, and was held on November 1. Eventually, the All Saints Day and a derivative of Samhain, the harvest festival, were celebrated on the same day. Over time, it became known as Halloween and continued to be celebrated throughout Europe.

It was not until the 19th century that Halloween became a holiday in the United States, when it was introduced to American culture by Irish immigrants. From 1845 to 1859, Ireland experienced the monumental Irish Potato Famine. During this time, more than one million immigrants traveled across the Atlantic Ocean, bringing with them their age-old Halloween traditions. Scottish immigrants also brought their flavor of the harvest holiday. The Irish and Scottish festivities included bobbing for apples, telling of old Irish legends, as well as pranks and other tomfoolery.

As the decades passed, costumes became more popular, first appearing in stores in the 1930s. Trick-or-treating took its place in the American celebrations in the 1950s. Since then, the holiday's activities have become increasingly adult-oriented, with the introduction of ghoulish costumes and wild parties. For this reason, many Christian parents have been seeking a more positive alternative for their children. And many churches have responded to this need by offering carnivals, called Harvest Parties, that prove to be just as much fun and frolic for kids, but are held in a safe and Godly environment.

Written by: Amy Miller