Most pagans are aware of the recent Fox news comments about Wiccans that brought down the wrath of our community.
One of the comments that caused such offense at the time was from a woman who said, to paraphrase (because I watched the thing once and that’s usually once too often for a Fox story), “I can’t take any religion seriously whose most sacred day is Halloween.”
Now, it was obvious when she said this that she was ignorant of, or at least playing on her audience’s ignorance of, the difference between the two Samhain and Halloween.
The modern secular celebration of Halloween consists, in part, of many folk customs that were originally connected to the Celtic festival of Samhain, but have been divested of their sacred meaning. So now, on one hand we have a fun night of dressing up in costume, overdosing on candy, and trying to scare ourselves silly; while on the other hand there is a solemn marking of the thinning veil and an night of honoring and communing with ancestral spirits.
Most pagans, I think, will acknowledge that despite the origins of the secular holiday, it no longer really has anything to do with the sacred one.
The Christian holidays of Easter and Christmas, too, have many folk customs tied to them. In their case, the folk practices tend to come from faiths practiced before Christianity was adopted. So we hunt for eggs on Easter, and celebrate the fertility of spring because that’s what our ancient ancestors did on Ostara. But this has become the secular side of the holiday. No one, outside of the pagan community, connects these activities with the sacred meaning of Easter. For most, it is a day of overeating and chocolate.
For devout Christians, Easter is a both solemn and joyous celebration of Christ’s sacrifice on behalf of humanity. Its timing is not directly based on the spring equinox, but rather the Jewish holiday of Passover. Thus Christ is symbolically connected to the lamb sacrificed at the beginning of Passover.
Claiming that the festival in honor of the most sacred mystery of their faith was “stolen” from pagans because of the bunnies and eggs – the (now) secular folk customs – is deeply offensive.
I don’t blame pagans for wanting to score some points off of the dominant religion in their part of the world. Many pagans have endured ridicule or worse at the hands of the majority and it’s only human to want to share that wealth.
But we can understand the difference between Samhain and Halloween, why can’t we acknowledge the same thing for the holidays of other faiths? Is the shared name really that confusing?
I blame the English language.
We all know that the word “holiday” is derived from, and still almost identical to “holy day.” But “holiday” has taken on new meanings beyond the sacred one. To most English speakers “holiday” now means a day off, a vacation – happy fun time.
I think this might be part of the reason it’s so easy to look at the cultural holidays being celebrated around us and only see the eggs and chocolate and assume everyone has forgotten the “real” meaning of the day – whatever we believe that to be.
We know our holy days are still holy, but we have trouble respecting the sacredness of the holy days of other faiths.