Welcome to the David Victor Vector Blog

Welcome to the David Victor Vector blog. This is blog that covers religious observances around the world international affairs and global business. This blog describes religious holidays for most major religions as well as raising issues dealing with globalization, international business ethics, cross-cultural business communication and political events affecting business in an integrated world economy. I look forward your discussion and commentary on these articles and subjects. Enjoy!

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox Christmas Customs


Eastern rite Christian traditions celebrate Christmas on Monday, January 7. Because Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox Christian traditions follow the follow the Julian Calendar rather than the Gregorian calendar used by Roman Catholic and most Protestant sects, Christmas seems to come "later" than the Christmas celebrated by other Christian traditions. Eastern rite Christmas, though, is not "later", but simply following a separate calendar. 

In the words, most (but not all) Eastern Orthodox, and Oriental Orthodox Churches celebrate Christmas on December 25 of the Julian calendar which corresponds to a date in the Gregorian calendar (used as the secular calendar as well) some time on or near January 7 (which is the date for January 2019). 

Some people using the Gregorian calendar confuse Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox Rite Christmas with Epiphany because Western traditions observe Epiphany on January 6 of the Gregorian calendar.  Orthodox traditions also observe Epiphany (often called Theophany among Eastern Orthodox Christians) on January 6 in the Julian calendar which corresponds to January 19 in the Gregorian or secular calendar.  For most Eastern Orthodox European traditions, the emphasis is primarily on the Theophany or “shining forth” of Jesus, as Jesus’ presence was made known. 

In several Eastern Orthodox traditions, Santa Claus visits children on New Year's Day. However, as most Orthodox churches follow the Julian calendar, this corresponds with January 14 in the Gregorian calendar. The giving of gifts in many Orthodox tradition is identified with Saint Basil the Great, who died on New Year’s Day, 379.  

Dating Christmas the Julian Calendar and Oriental Orthodox Calendars

The Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches shared the same calendar until 1582 when the Roman Catholic Pople Gregory XIII adopted a new calendar, now named for him and known as the Gregorian calendar. Until 1582, all Christians followed the calendar established by Julius Caesar, known as the Julian calendar. Gregory XIII was concerned with the relative loss of time in the Julian calendar. The Julian calendar has a leap year every four years by doubling February 24. Gregory XIII relied on the calculations of the observable equinoxes calculated by the astronomers Aloysius Lilies and Christopher Clavius. The Eastern and Oriental Orthodox Churches did not recognize the change and they have continued to maintain the Julian calendar.

A further division exists among Eastern Orthodoxy and Oriental Orthodoxy, the two having divided over the definition of Christ's nature at the Council of Chalcedon in 451.

Technically, too, adherents of Oriental Orthodox faiths follow their own calendars, but have for the sake of Orthodox unity agreed to calculate Christmas on the same date as their Eastern Orthodox counterparts. In other words, many of the Oriental Orthodox Churches do not follow the Julian calendar as they had their own calendar systems which predate the Julian system. However since the Oriental Orthodox Churches generally match the Julian calendar for the Feast of the Nativity, this is not particular important with regard to dating this particular holiday.

Finally, complicating this a bit more, some Eastern Orthodox Churches adopted a "revised Julian calendar, aligning the two calendars (for the current century at least). The calendars still differ for Easter (or Pascha) but match for Christmas and non-moveable feasts. As a result, the so-called "new calendarists" also celebrate Christmas on the secular date of December 25. Thus the Roman Catholic and Protestant Christmas is the same date as Christmas for the Greek Orthodox (the largest of the new calendarist Orthodox churches), the Finnish and Estonian Orthodox (the first to adopt the new calendar, both in 1923), the Bulgarian Orthodox (the last to adopt the new calendar, in 1968) and the Orthodox Churches of Cyprus, Albania,  Constantinople, Romania and the Czech Lands & Slovakia,  and the Saint Thomas Christian Communities of India (the Malankara Orthodox Syrian, the Catholicos of the East, and the Malankara Metropolitan Churches). While these churches all remain autocephalous members of the Eastern Orthodox Communion, they are a minority among the various Eastern Orthodox churches.

Churches Predating the Adoption of the Julian Calendar

Most of the Oriental Orthodox Churches predate the establishment of formal Christianity under the Roman Emperor Constantine in the Roman Empire. The Christian churches in Egypt, Ethiopia and the Levant well predate Constantine's attempt to formulate an official agreement not only on doctrine but on using the Julian -- official Roman -- calendar for dating holidays at the First Council of Nicaea in 325.  As a result, the churches established in Ethiopia, Egypt, and Syria all had well-established religious calendars  

Moreover, not all of the churches that predate the Council of Nicaea follow the Julian calendar. Three of these --  the Indian Thomas Churches, the Assyrian Church of the East and the Chaldean Catholic Church (both claiming to date back to the 1st Century AD) remain in communion with the Roman Catholic Church, and as a result follow the Gregorian dating system.

Who Celebrates the Feast of the Nativity -- Christmas -- Using the Julian Calendar

The Oriental Orthodox and the Eastern Orthodox Christianity are not the same religion, even if both use the Julian Calendar's date for the birth of Jesus and both have the word "Orthodox" in their names. It is not the purpose of this overview to discuss the doctrinal and religious differences dividing these groups. Rather, the purpose here is to indicate which Christian Churches celebrate Christmas according to the Julian calendar (and thus making them appear to celebrate Christmas in January in the secular or Gregorian calendar).

In the following list, it is likely that I will have left out some of the churches. Some of these are due to size (as in those churches with under ½ million followers) and others due to controversy as with the 14 current autocephalous Eastern Orthodox Churches that have been excommunicated or otherwise unrecognized. Others may well be simply that (and I apologize in advance) I did not know enough to include these. In short, this is not a comprehensive list.

These, then, are the Christian churches that celebrate the Feast of the Nativity according to the Julian Calendar. These are divided into those in the Oriental Orthodox Communion and the Eastern Orthodox Communion, along with their estimated followers.

Oriental Orthodox Churches
  • Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church (50 million)
  • Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria (30 million)
  • Armenian Apostolic Church (9 million)
  • Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo (3 milllion)
  • Syriac Orthodox/Jacobite Syrian Church of Antioch (½ million)
Eastern Orthodox Churches
  • Russian Orthodox Church (150 million)
  • Serbian Orthodox Church (12 million)
  • Ukrainian Orthodox Church (7 million)
  • Georgian Apostolic Autocephalous Orthodox Church (3.5 million)
Note again that the several Eastern Orthodox Churches follow the "new calendrist" Julian custom of celebrating Christmas on the "new Julian" date that corresponds to the Gregorian date of December 25. These churches are Eastern Orthodox in all other respects and remain within the Eastern Orthodox Communion. Again, these Orthodox churches celebrating Christmas on the same day as the Gregorian Christmas are:

  • Greek Orthodox Church (25 million)* 
  • Romanian Orthodox Church (16 million)
  • Bulgarian Orthodox Church (11 million)
  • Albanian Orthodox Church (½ million)
  • Finnish, Estonian Orthodox, Czech and Slovak (all under 100,000)
* technically speaking, the Greek Orthodox Church is composed of multiple divisions itself, including the so-called "four ancient Patriarchates" of Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, of Alexandria, of Antioch and of Jerusalem (itself with an autonomous subdivision of the Church of Mount Sinai), as well as three self-ruling Greek Orthodox churches of the Church of Greece, Church of Cyprus, and the semi-autonomous Church of Cyprus).

 Select Eastern Orthodox Christmas Traditions 

As I plan to update this blog, let me simply for now share four traditions from the Churches listed above. As time goes on, I will add this yearly as I have with the earlier Christmas post.

Russian and Ukrainian Customs

In Russia and Ukraine, Grandfather Frost (Ded Moroz in Russian and Did Moróz in Ukrainian) visits children who have been good on New Year's Eve (which predates Christmas in the Julian Calendar). Grandfather Frost is accompanied by his granddaughter Snowmaiden (Snegurochka in Russian and Snihurónka in Ukrainian). 

Grandfather Frost in many ways resembles the Western Santa Claus. They both wear red coats with
Grandfather Frost and Snowmaiden
white trim, both are old men with long white beards and both bring gifts. Where Santa and Grandfather Frost diverge is the nature of the clothing -- both may be red, but Grandfather Frost wears red linen with silver and gold ornamental patterns embroidered throughout while Santa Claus pretty much wears red velvet. Santa rides through the sky with a team of eight reindeer that magically fly. 
Ded Moroz rides in a regular (if fancy) sleigh drawn by three horses.  Santa lives at the North Pole while Ded Moroz officially lives in the Russia city of Veliky Ustyug (you can visit him there too). Finally, Santa has no helpers while Grandfather Frost granddaughter -- the Snowmaiden -- dressed in white with a white headdress.

Santa Claus Ded Moroz differ also in their origin --Ded Moroz predates Santa Claus by centuries; in fact, he predates Christianity with his origins in pagan customs.

Serbian Customs

Serbs celebrate Christmas Eve with a badnjak -- an oaken log around which various regions and families have differing custom. Generally, the male leader of the family (joined by other male family members) goes into the woods to select a perfect oak tree or branch, especially one with golden leaves.  While traditions vary, generally the head of the family then stands to the east of the tree and tosses ceremonial grain in its direction, while greeting the tree with a blessing, the sign of the cross and a kiss before cutting it down in a traditional way (often at a slant). The badnjak is then brought to the house and burnt. The fire symbolizes the fire brought by the three Magi to warm the manger where Christ was born. Since the badnjak tradition is untenable in urban settings, alternatives have arisen. One is simply to place oaken twigs and leaves in a fireplace and burn those. Another -- often done in combination with burning twigs -- is to decorate the family home with wreaths made from oak. Finally, in some communities, the local church sets up a communal badnjak fire. This is often accompanied by religious songs and a festive gathering among friends.

Sharing food with family and friends is part of Serbian Christmas. While many different foods are common to the day, perhaps the most widely anticipated is that of ćesnica. Ćesnica is a round bread made with often elaborate patterns and religious decoration on top. While the recipes and patterns used on the bread differ from family custom to family custom, they all share one thing in common: a silver coin baked inside. Tradition says that whoever gets the piece of bread with the coin will have good luck for the coming year. 

Serbian ćesnica

Another Serbian custom involves placing straw on the floor, in recognition that Jesus was born in a manger. Often wheat and walnuts are scattered on the floor of the dining room, which for some Serbs symbolizes health and good fortune for the coming year.

Egypt (Coptic) Customs

Most of Egypt's Christians belong to the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria. Again, while the Copts have their own calendar, Christmas remains the same as the Julian calendar. The Coptic calendar, though, is important in the Christmas celebrations. For the 45 days leading up to Christmas (the 29th of the Coptic month of Khiahk), Copts traditionally eat no meat or dairy, becoming vegetarians until Christmas comes. 

Coptic fatta
On Christmas Eve, Copts go to religious ceremonies that start at 11:00 PM and pass through midnight. After the service is over, everyone goes home to a late-night feast. The center of this feast is the meat and rice dish of fatta, which breaks the meat fast. 

After eating and well into the next day, many Copts set off firecrackers, although Egyptian law (formally at least) forbids firecrackers. Children traditionally are given new clothing to wear and Christmas day is spent going to concerts of Christmas carols. It is also traditional to give food to the poor on Christmas day, sharing especially Christmas donuts called zalabya and mullet fish fish (bouri).

Ethiopian Christmas Customs

Ethiopian Christmas -- or Genna -- follows the Ethiopian calendar, although this aligns with the Julian calendar for the holiday. The focus is very much on the birthday of Christ, so another name for the holiday is simply Lidet or "Birthday."

Genna Procession, Ethiopia
Most Ethiopian Orthodox worshippers fast in various forms until Christmas Day. The custom is to walk in procession to the local church wearing fresh white clothing, arriving late on Christmas Eve. Once at church, the congregants hold an all-night service, coming home in the morning to break their fast. The meal starts with flaxseed oil (to prepare the fasting stomach), strong Ethiopian coffee (to stay awake after the all-night service) and then on to the traditional spicy chicken stew called doro wot

One of the most unique customs of Christmas Day is the playing of a game unique to the day. As explained in Selamta (the magazine of Ethiopian Airlines):

Perhaps the most unique aspect of the Ethiopian Christmas tradition is that it is associated with a sport, also called Genna, that is most widely played during the holiday season. According to Ethiopian legend, when the shepherds of the biblical Christmas story were informed of the birth of the Messiah, they expressed their overwhelming joy by using their staffs to break into a spontaneous game that resembles field hockey. The afternoon of Genna is filled with matches of the game, played mainly by young men, and potentially other sporting activities such as horse racing. 
Playing the sport of Genna on Genna in Ethiopia

I promise more coverage of other custom in later updates. For now though, may those celebrating Christmas this January 7, may you have a blessed holiday.

Want to Learn More

On Russian and Ukrainian Customs

Mat Auryn (December 17, 2018), "Ded Moroz: The Cruel & Kind Grandfather Frost," Patheos, https://www.patheos.com/blogs/matauryn/2018/12/17/ded-moroz/

"Of Russian origin: Ded Moroz," (nd), Russiapedia,  https://russiapedia.rt.com/of-russian-origin/ded-moroz/ 

Eugenia Sokolskaya (November 18, 2014), "Grandfather Frost: More than just Santa Claus," Russian Lifehttps://russianlife.com/stories/online/grandfather-frost-more-than-just-santa-claus/

On Serbian Customs

Gordona Andric (january 6, 2014), "Celebrate Christmas, Serbian Style," Balkan Insight, http://www.balkaninsight.com/en/article/celebrate-christmas-serbian-style

Barbara Rolek (June 6, 2018), "Serbian Christmas Bread (Sweet Česnica)", The Spruce Eats, https://www.thespruceeats.com/serbian-christmas-bread-sweet-cesnica-1135833

Barbara Rolek (November 26, 2018), "Serbian Christmas Traditions", The Spruce Eats, https://www.thespruceeats.com/serbian-christmas-traditions-1135801

On Coptic Customs

W. C. Egan (2002), "Christmas in Egypt," Christmas World, http://christmas-world.freeservers.com/egypt.html

Reem Tolba (January 5, 2018), "Ways to Celebrate Coptic Christmas in the Middle East," Scoop Empire, https://scoopempire.com/ways-celebrate-coptic-christmas-middle-east/

On Ethiopian Customs

"Christmas in Ethiopia: The unique traditions of Ethiopian Christmas" (Jan-Feb, 2017), Selamta

"Ethiopian Genna -- Christmas" (December 19, 2017), Ethiopian Newsweek, https://www.ethiopianewsweek.com/%E2%80%8Bethiopian-genna-christmas/

Dianne Weller (nd), "Christmas in Ethiopia: Symbolism Amid Food, Fun and Games," Xmas Trivia, 

Illustration Sources

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Samhain, All Saints Day, Día de los Muertos and Halloween 2018

October 31 is the important Wiccan and Neo-Pagan religious holiday of Samhain, coinciding with the lighthearted secular US celebration of Halloween.  November 1 is the Roman Catholic and Anglican holiday of All Saints Day and November 2 is the Roman Catholic and Anglican holiday of the Feast of All Souls  (celebrated as the Día de los Muertos or Day of the Dead in Mexico and with variants in some other Latin American and Filipino traditions).    Within the Methodist Church, All Saints Day is celebrated on the first Sunday of November (which for 2017 falls on November 5). For Lutherans, the Sunday on or before October 31, is celebrated as Reformation Day.


Pronounced SOW-in, Samhain in Gaelic means “Summer’s End” and is a major holiday in both Wicca and in Neo-Pagan religions. It should be noted that some debate regarding when Samhain should be celebrated exists. Some traditions celebrate the holiday on November 1 and others – notably many Wiccans observe the holiday on November 7. Regardless of date, the holiday carries the same significance in marking the end of summer and the final harvest of the year.  In most traditions, the Sabbat of Samhain is celebrated for three successive evenings.

Within Wicca and most neo-Pagan traditions, Samhain marks the end of the calendar, and is thus the New Year’s celebration. For this reason, Samhain is a time for renewal as well as for giving thanks for the harvest as winter approaches. Traditionally, Samhain is the last chance for harvesting any remaining crops or picking any remaining produce from one’s garden. Samhain is also a time for remembering things past, especially those who have died. It is therefore a holiday for honoring the dead (both human and animal) and particularly for call to mind loved ones who have passed away. It is important to note that this is not a form of ancestor or spirit worship but rather an honoring of the Cycle of Life and Death.  

Samhain is also a time to honor animals – particularly pets and other animals among whom we share our lives – since animals are seen as providing us with sustenance in the form of food and clothing. Because of this, Samhain is a time to honor those pets who have died over the last year.  In some traditions, animals are seen as protecting us from spirits that would harm us and other things that inhabit the darkness.   Relatedly, some who celebrate Samhain also believe that this is the time of year when the veil is thinnest between this world and the Otherworld (the realm of spirits and the home of the dead).  Consequently, for worshippers who hold to this belief, Samhain provides an opportunity for communicating with the spirit realm and the dead. 

Samhain altar
Within both Wicca and Neo-Paganism, Samhain is often marked by worship at an altar (or at times in the house at the kitchen room table) with offerings of the harvest.

The altar shown at right is taken from a lovely gallery of Samhain altars posted at About.com on the Paganism/Wicca site at 
 http://paganwiccan.about.com/od/samhainoctober31/ig/Samhain-Altar-Gallery/ The altar shown (at right) here was posted as Joni's altar. 

Many people present their altar offerings in a horn of plenty (called a cornucopia, and now closely associated with the US secular holiday of Thanksgiving), and customarily include home-baked dark bread as well as nuts, berries, fruits and vegetables.  

Soul Cakes
Among the Samhain foods with the longest traditions is that of "soul cakes." Since pre-Christian times, people in the England, Scotland and Ireland have left muffin-like soul cakes accompanied by a glass of wine or milk for the souls of those who had recently passed away. The Celtic pagan tradition predates by centuries the adoption of "soul cakes" left on the eve of the Feast of All Souls, the Christianized version of Samhain (see below).  One recipe for soul cakes can be found at


Often people include a a Wiccan Star or a statue of the Goddess. Candles are lit on the altar in many traditions, and are often accompanied by photographs of loved ones who have passed on to the other side. Prayers honoring the day are said either before or after a festive meal is eaten featuring the offerings and often accompanied by cider or mulled wine and wild game.   

All Saints Day   

Roman Catholicism

All Saints Day is one of the 14 worldwide holy days of obligation of the Roman Catholic Church.  As with all holy days of obligation, All Saints Day begins with a vigil on the night preceding it.  

A special Roman Catholic mass is conducted for All Saints Day to remember the saints and martyrs of the Church, both those known and unknown.  In many congregations, rituals include the use a crown and a sheaf of wheat. Many congregational services also make use of images of the saints and of the Manus Dei (the Hand of God with rays of light extending from it).

Another name in English for the holy day is All Hallowmas   Halloween is actually the name of the date of the vigil on the night before All Saints Day.. By the mid 1500’s as vernacular languages began to replace Latin in religious usage, the holiday was called All Hallowmas (the word Hallow – from to hallow -- meant Saint at the time).  The vigil on the night before All Hallowmas was called All Hallows Even (shortened by the 1600’s to Hallowe’en). 

All Saints Day is one of the oldest holy days of obligation in Christianity. As early as 407, St. John Chrysostom first assigned a date for All Saints Day; that date, however, was not November 1, but rather the first Sunday following Pentecost. This remains the date for Eastern Orthodox Christians where the holiday is officially known as the Sunday of All Saints. The original holiday was dedicated to Saint John the Baptist and those martyred for the Church. (as by the early 5th Century there were so many martyred saints that they could no longer readily each have their own day on the Church calendar).  

As described below, Pope Gregory III   (731-741) moved the date of All Saints Day within the Roman Catholic Church to its current date of November 1, making it a pilgrimage date within Italy, and in 835 Pope Gregory IV extended All Saints Day to apply worldwide.


The role of saints became questioned among Protestants following the Reformation in the early 1500’s. The debate of the role of saints led to divisions in the traditions of how Protestants continued to observe All Saints Day. 

Some Protestant movements continued (and still continue) directly to observe All Saints Day. In the Anglican Church, All Saints Day is observed on or immediately following October 31. The Anglican and Episcopalian Churches recognize saints as people who have been notably sanctified. 

Swedish cemetery on Alla Helgons Dag
In the Swedish Lutheran Church, All Saints Day (Alla Helgons Dagcontinues to be a holiday and is observed as a national civic holiday on the Saturday following October 30 and as a religious holiday on the first Sunday of November. In Sweden, the Saturday of Alla Helgons Dag became a national civic holiday only in 1952 and is used by people to visit the graves of family members who have passed away and to decorate their gravesites.

In both the Anglican and Swedish Lutheran Church, the holiday remembers saints. It should be noted that in these traditions, all Christians are saints, but particular honor for historical saints is allowed as representing individuals who have received extraordinary grace and as people who can inspire others to lead exemplary lives.

All Saints Day is one of the three main holidays (along with Easter and Christmas) of the United Methodist Church. Methodists celebrate the holiday on the first Sunday in November.  It is important to note, though, that Methodists do not venerate or worship saints (and John Wesley specifically forbade Methodists from doing so). For Methodists, all people are saints (although they recognize important Biblical figures by their common names as saints). Methodists, therefore, do not worship or venerate the saints but rather honor all holy Biblical people on All Saints Day. The holiday is also used as a day of remembrance not only for Biblical saints but, significantly, for all who have died in their particular congregations. Thus, on All Saints Day in many Methodist congregations, an acolyte reads of the names of those congregational members who have died.
Other Protestant denominations including the Presbyterians, Unitarian and a minority among some Baptist congregations also have some service recognizing All Saints Day.

Feast of All Souls and the Día de los Muertos

Saint Odilo of Cluny
November 2 in Roman Catholicism is the Feast of All Souls. Its official name is "The Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed" and it commemorates those among the faithful who have passed away. The holiday dates to 998 when the holiday St. Odilo of Cluny set November 2 as a time to pray for the dead in Purgatory at his Abbey of Cluny. The practice was widely copied and spread throughout much of Europe, eventually transforming from a prayer for those in Purgatory to a commemoration of those among the faithful who had died. With Roman Catholicism as a whole, the Feast of All Souls is considered a minor religious observance, not on the same order as that of All Saints Day.

By contrast, in several Roman Catholic national traditions, the Feast of All Souls has taken on a much greater significance than elsewhere. This is especially the case in Mexico, where the holiday is celebrated as Día de los Muertos or Day of the Dead. A Day of the Dead had preceded Christianity by centuries in Mexico, with evidence of some practice of a related holiday dating back over 2000 years. When the Spanish arrived in Mexico, they found that their Feast of All Souls corresponded with the worship among Aztecs and others of the goddess Mictecacihuatl who was Queen of Mictlan or the Underworld. The Roman Catholic Church syncretized the worship of Mictecacihuatl, replacing her veneration with that of the Virgin Mary, Mother of Jesus. Mictecacihuatl, known as the Sante Muerte (Saint Death) or simply the Dama de la Muerte (Lady of the Dead) is still present in some Mexican celebrations.  

In Mexico, the Día de los Muertos is major holiday on which people go to graveyards to visit the graves of their dead relatives. It should be noted that this holiday shares little if any of the North American uneasiness with death or with graveyards. Instead, the Mexican version of the holiday celebrates the unity between life and death and recognizes a strong sense of belief in the afterlife. The Día de los Muertos is a very festive time with people bringing photos and favorite foods of their deceased loved ones to the gravesites. Commonly people bring to the cemetery skulls made of sugar or marzipan with the name of the deceased one on the forehead. Other special foods include  candied pumpkins and the sweet soft bun decorated with pretend bones called pan de muerto (bread of the day). Throughout Mexico, marigolds (called Flores del Muerto or Flowers of Death) are used to decorate for the holiday (a tradition with origins in the Aztec rituals). It is also a time in which children are given toys, often with a skeleton theme (such as skeleton dolls or papier mache figures). In many homes, government offices and workplaces, people erect special altars centered around an image of the Virgin Mary with offerings to the departed placed there. 

Many traditions for the Día de los Muertos are regional in nature. These involve wearing skull masks, erecting skelton sculptures, having mariachi bands play while dressed as skeletons, having weddings of skeleton marionettes or of people dress as skeletons, wearing special clothing with regional ties to the holiday and holding dances or parades.

In 2008, the UNESCO officially inscribed Día de los Muertos celebrations as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

Holidays similar to the Mexican Día de los Muertos are celebrated in the elsewhere in Latin America. In Guatemala, the holiday is called Día de los Difuntos (which also means Day of the Dead) and is celebrated by visiting graves, flying kites and eating a special salad called fiambre made up of up to 50 different ingredients and only eaten once a year during the holiday. Bolivia’s indigenous people celebrate Dia de los Natitas (Day of the Skulls) in which indigenous peoples bring to Church the actual (not sugar) skulls of their dead which many traditionally keep in their homes.  Similar practices (without the actual skulls) are conducted among the Quechua-speaking community in Ecuador on All Souls Day. All Souls Day is also widely celebrated in Brazil where it is also called Finados, and people visit the graves of relatives. Outside of Latin America, Day of the Dead celebrations are practiced widely in the Philippines where it is called Todos los Santos (All Saints Day) in Spanish but Araw ng mga Patay ("Day of the Dead") in Tagalog and celebrated as a two-day family with visits to the graveyard and parties for the extended family.

All Souls Day is an official public civic holiday for public employees in AngolaBelgiumBoliviaBrazilEcuadorEl SalvadorHaitiMexico and Uruguay. It is also an official holiday in the US territory of Guam.

Reformation Day

Many Protestant denominations celebrate Reformation Day on the first Sunday on or following October 31.  Reformation Day is a public civic holiday in the nation of Slovenia as well as in the five predominantly Lutheran German Länder (states) of Brandenburg, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt and Thuringia.

Martin Luther began the Reformation by nailing his 95 Theses on the door of Wittenberg Church on the Eve of All Saints Day, October 31, 1517. Reformation Day is a holiday to commemorate this event for many Protestant denominations.

For these denominations, Reformation Day was also a way of repurposing All Saints Day. These denominations are either opposed to the concept of All Saints Day, some because of its association with the Roman Catholic Church or because of their refutation of the concept of sainthood (or both). In many Protestant denominations, some of the features of All Saints Day are combined with those of All Souls Day as worshipers remember those among the faithful or among one’s local congregation who have passed away.

The first recorded Reformation Day was decreed by law in 1569 in the officially Lutheran former German Duchy of Pomerania on what had been Saint Martin’s Day (November 11), because it bore the name of Lutheranism’s founder, Martin Luther. The  practice of observing Reformation Day was taken up by several other officially Lutheran States but without consistency as to practice or even date. Some uniformity took hold on the 100th anniversary of the Reformation in 1617. In that year, Reformation Day was observed on October 31 and November 1 among all of the Lutheran nations throughout what is now Germany (Germany as a single nation did not exist until 1871).  Among Lutheran churches today, the observances are mixed. For many Lutheran churches, the observance of Reformation Sunday is on the Sunday on or before October 1, with a separate holiday of All Saints Day on the Sunday on or following November 1. Lutherans, it should be pointed out, do not generally believe in saints in the same way as do Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox or Anglicans. For Lutherans, therefore, All Saints Day is a lesser holiday used to remember saints both dead and living and to honor Jesus Christ.

Some Evangelical and Pentecostal Christian movements have begun to use Reformation Day as a way to repurpose the secular holiday of Halloween. For many Evangelical and Pentecostal Christians, Halloween is an offensive holiday. As the Evangelical Director of the Children’s Ministry International, Brad Winsted asks,

“For so many Halloween presents a dilemma, what do you do with a holiday with roots in the occult?”  http://www.cbn.com/spirituallife/onlinediscipleship/halloween/reformation_day.aspx

Minister Winsted’s answer is to repurpose Halloween as Reformation Day.  

Halloween, Oíche Shamhna and All Saints Eve

The secular version of All Hallows Eve or Halloween is an especially popular holiday in the English-speaking world. The secular holiday has its roots in the religious holidays of Samhain and is called Oíche Shamhna (Samhain Night) in Ireland even by those who do not practice Wicca or Neo-Paganism. The secular holiday has spread to many non-English-speaking countries beginning roughly in the 1990’s, where it has been viewed mostly as a US import.

During Colonial times, North America was largely opposed to Halloween celebrations. Celebrations of All Saints Day were banned and any suspected ties to witchcraft were highly condemned (although not all as dramatically as the Salem Witch Trials). There is no formal record of Halloween having been practiced anywhere until the mid-19th Century. Thus, Halloween was not commonly celebrated in the United States until the late 19th Century, following the Irish Famine of the 1840’s. The holiday seems to have grown out of Scottish immigration to Canada in a similar manner.

By the beginning of the 20th Century, Halloween had devolved to an evening in which teenagers played pranks including property damage and assaults, a tradition grown from the English practice of Mischief Night (still practiced in some US cities as Devil’s Night on the night of October 30). Countering movements tried to commercialize Halloween as a night of safer entertainment in which children dressed up with the first commercially produced hand-made Halloween costumes appearing in the first decade of the 20th Century. In 1912, the Boy Scouts of America became involved in ensuring the safety with a “Sane Halloween” campaign that was largely successful. It was from here that the custom of trick-or-treating from door to door had its roots in the United States and Canada. Halloween celebrants were encouraged to turn the celebration into what was called “Beggar’s Night” to request a treat in return for not carrying out a trick (e.g., property damage). This trick-or-treating grew considerably more widespread during the Depression. By the mid-1930’s, manufacturers began to sell mass-produced Halloween costumes and decorations. 

Halloween served both as a stress relief for adults during the Depression as well as a source of sweets (given by those better off) for poorer children who would not otherwise be able to afford them. This pattern may be repeating itself in the current Recession. In an interview, retail analyst Doug Johnson noted that “Halloween has become more popular because of the relative low costs and the escape from daily worries and a chance to be a kid again.” http://www.wrn.com/2011/10/halloween-makes-a-killing-in-retail-sales/  

Halloween is one of the most widely celebrated holidays in the United States. Polls by the NRF found  that figures for 2018 will likely match the record high from 2017, with over 70% indicating they will celebrate the holiday (the figure was 72% in 2017, the highest percentage ever recorded).  The US National Retail Federation (NRF) estimates that sales of Halloween-related products and candy will reach $9.0 billion, expected to come close or even match 2017's record $9.1 billion (easily exceeding the previous record of 2016's $8.4 billion).  The trend for high Halloween spending remains entrenched now with ll three years -- 2016, 2017 and 2018 --exceeding the previous record high of $7.98 billion in 2012. Generally, since 2005 sales of Halloween-related products and candy have been on an upward trajectory (with downturns only in three years: in 2009, 2013 and 2015).  

The NRF data indicates that 2018 will reach a record per-household sale, with US consumers planning to spend $86.79 per household (exceeding 2017's $86.13 per household). This makes Halloween for two years running second only to Christmas for per household spending on a holiday in the United States.

As with previous years, spending is greatest on costumes with anticipated sales of $3.2 billion. One newly growing trend for 2018 is an increase in the sale of costumes for pets, with 20% of Americans buying costumes for their pets. This is an jump of 16% in sales of pet costumes over 2017. Prosper Insights Vice President Phil Rist indicated that this trend is strongest among pet owners between the ages of 25-34: "Out of the 31.3 million Americans planning to dress their pets in costumes, millennials (25-34) are most likely to dress up their pets, the highest we have seen in the history of our survey." https://nrf.com/media/press-releases/halloween-spending-reach-9-billion

For 2018, the NRF data show that the most popular costume for children is a princess, with 7.6% of children representing 3.8 million children. This figure is actually arguable, however, as superhero costumes are divided into specific superheroes while princess costumes are one group. Collectively, superhero costumes represent 15.9 of all children's costume, divided as 4.9% non-specified superhero, 4.3% Batman, 3.5% Spiderman, and 3.5% Avenger character (other than Spiderman).

For 2018, the NRF data show that, by far, the most popular grown-up costume is a witch, the choice of 10.7% of all adults dressing up for the holidays. Witch costumes for adults make up more than the next three choices combined: vampire, 3.7%; zombie, 3.1% and pirate, 2.9%.

In an unusual move, a US government agency has forbidden employees to dress up as President Donald Trump. The Department of Interior reminded its employees to avoid dressing as the president with an email with the subject line: "Halloween Hatch Act Reminder." The Hatch Acts prohibits federal employees from engaging in political activity while on duty. The Department of Interior warned its employees:

“While we enjoy the Halloween activities this afternoon, it is important to remember that employees should not wear costumes that resemble candidates for partisan political office. Please keep in mind that President Donald J. Trump is officially a candidate for reelection.”  October 31, 2018 memo to Department of Interior employees https://www.thedailybeast.com/interior-department-tells-staff-dont-dress-up-as-trump-on-halloween-it-could-violate-the-law  
Costumes -- for humans or pets -- at $3.2 billion far exceed the $2.7 billion spent on decorations and the $2.6 billion on candy.  The only figure showing a decline is with Halloween greeting cards, with an estimated $400 million in sales, nearly a $100 million drop in dollar amount from 2017. Still, for those planning Halloween purchases, 35% indicated that they will purchase Halloween cards.

In terms of percentage planning to make any Halloween purchase (in other words, by volume rather than dollar value), candy is by far the dominant choice.

The NRF data for 2018 show that in the United States, fully 95% if ask Halloween planned purchases will be on candy. Halloween decorations will account for 74%, costumes for 68% and greeting cards for 35%,

Similar growth trends exist outside the United States as well. For example, market research analyst Mintel estimates that sales in the United Kingdom for 2017 sales to reach £353 million ($418 million). And while this is still short of 2012's record of  £353 million, it still reflects a nearly 30-fold increase 2001's £12 million in 2001. This makes Halloween a major retail sales event.  These figures, too, do not reflect Scottish and Northern Irish celebrations of Samhain. Mintel indicates that most of the growth in the popularity of Halloween in the UK rests with the millennials, reporting that 60% of that age group spent on Halloween in 2016.

Religious-Based Objections to Secular Halloween

Despite its overall popularity as a holiday, some Evangelical and Pentecostal Protestant groups are strongly opposed to Halloween as a holiday. For example, the Evangelical Christian preacher Pat Robertson said on the September 27 episode of his 700 Club television show that, “Halloween is Satan’s night, it’s the night for the devil.”  To see the video of this please click on http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UaFiQfta6SM

Similarly, some Muslims also find Halloween offensive. The Islam.com website on About.com has devotes a page to Islam and Halloween in which it advises avoiding Halloween participation: “Virtually all Halloween traditions are based either in ancient pagan culture, or in Christianity. From an Islamic point of view, they all are forms of idolatry (shirk). As Muslims, our celebrations should be ones that honor and uphold our faith and beliefs. How can we worship only Allah, the Creator, if we participate in activities that are based in pagan rituals, divination, and the spirit world?” http://islam.about.com/od/otherdays/a/halloween.htm  As the blog “Stand Up 4 Islam” puts it, “If there’s a festival that must be so obviously un-Islamic, it’s got to be Halloween.” http://standup4islam.wordpress.com/  

Some Evangelical and Pentecostal Christians have tried to strike a balance.  For example, the website The Hem of His Garment Bible Study at  http://www.hem-of-his-garment-bible-study.org/Christian-Halloween-alternatives.html suggests several "Christian Halloween alternatives" or, failing that it advises that "If your kids are just determined to go door to door on October 31st, do something a bit different.
*Dress up as Bible Heroes
*Politely refuse any candy offered to you.
*Instead, give out candy wrapped in the witnessing stickers to every home that you visit."

The Influence of Samhain on All Saints Day and Halloween

It is not accidental that Samhain coincides with Halloween. This is because the secular celebration of Halloween actually has its root in the ancient Celtic holiday of Samhain. That said, it should be noted that within Wicca and many Neo-Pagan traditions, Samhain is a serious holiday and should not be lumped together in the same lighthearted attitude given toward Halloween.

It is also not coincidental that the Roman Catholic Church set the holidays of All Saints Day and All Souls Day on Samhain. At some point during the papacy of Pope Gregory III (731-741), All Saints Day was moved from the first Sunday after Pentecost to November 1. It should be noted that in the Eastern Orthodox Churches, All Saints Day continues to be celebrated on the first Sunday after Pentecost. 

Even the setting of the earlier date of the first Sunday after Pentecost had ties to pagan observances as this coincided with the Roman pagan holiday of Lemuria. Practices related to Lemuria were still widely celebrated even after Christianity became Rome’s state religion and paganism was officially suppressed. Before the conversion of Rome to Christianity, the ancient Romans believed that Lemures (also call Larvae) were vampire-like ghosts who haunted those relatives who were still alive. To protect against the Lemures, the male head of the household had to rise in the midnight and, after ritually washing their hands, throw black beans outside for the Lemures to collect. The head of the household then entreated the spirits to keep from harming his family. It is from Lemuria, in part, that the tradition of vampires and the spirits of the dead walking the earth derive.   

By declaring the observance of All Saints Day Eve roughly at the time of Lemuria, the early Church was able to Christianize the pagan practice. This absorption of the pagan practices into All Saints Day Eve effectively worked in gradually eliminating Lemuria from memory altogether. 

That said, practices tied to yet another pagan holiday – Pomona Day—remained strongly in place on and around October 31. In an historical irony, the pre-Christian celebration of Pomona Day was itself a direct influence of the Celtic Samhain. During Rome’s 1st Century BCE Roman of the Celtic lands of northwest FranceBritain and Ireland, Roman troops became acquainted with the Celtic observances of Samhain. As these soldiers returned back home, they took with them many of the rites of Samhain. 

To Romanize Samhain, the Pagan Roman authorities merged these Celtic Samhain rites with the veneration of the Roman Pagan harvest goddess PomonaPomona’s harvest symbol was the cornucopia or horn of plenty and her worship included the sharing of apples and nuts (from which arguably the tradition of giving of treats derived). 
Pope Gregory III

One argument as to why Gregory III moved All Saints Day from the first Sunday after Pentecost to November 1 may have been to absorb the vestiges of Pomona Day into the holiday just as the Church had absorbed those rites earlier associated with Lemuria into the holiday. In other words, by moving the date, Pope Gregory III effectively made the Italian Pomona Day pagan rites a part of Church-sanctioned practices. All Saints Day, however, was practiced only in Rome itself where the All Saints Chapel in Saint Peter’s served as a pilgrimage destination. As a result, while the Pomona Day rites became Christianized in Italy, the  Pagan and druidic practices continued to have a hold on the former Celtic lands, especially in Ireland, Brittany and Scotland and people still continued to celebrate Samhain even though they were officially Roman Catholic. In 835, Pope Gregory IV extended the All Saints Day to include all Christians wherever they were and extended the Day to honor all saints (not just Saint John the Baptists and the early Church martyrs). In extending All Hallowmas beyond Rome, the Church was able to syncretize the continuing Samhain practices in the traditionally Celtic lands, making them part of the Church’s acceptable practices just as it had done for the Pomona Day practices in Italy

In moving All Saints Day to November 1, Pope Gregory III dedicated a chapel in Saint Peter’s in Rome. Pope Gregory III ostensibly moved the date to November 1 to benefit from the harvest in Rome as a means to accommodate pilgrims who would come to Rome to observe All Saints Day. It seems at least arguable that (just as with the earlier dating of the holiday to coincide with Lemuria), Pope Gregory III may also have chosen to move All Saints Day to November 1 to make sacred the continuing pagan practices. 

Pope Gregory IV

It is interesting to note how persistent the Samhain rites have remained. In a case of history repeating itself almost exactly, the pre-Christian Roman hierarchy had syncretized Samhain to their Pagan religious practices centuries before Popes Gregory III would syncretized the Roman Pagan rites of Pomona Day that were themselves syncretized from Samhain.  

Pope Gregory IV would then do the same for the continuing practices in Great BritainIreland and Brittany. Lutherans and other Protestants would then do the same by repurposing as Reformation Day the Roman Catholic All Saints Day which itself was a repurposed Pomona Day which was itself a repurposed of the original Samhain. In the holiday of Halloween, the holiday has been repurposed once more to reflect a more secular society’s approach to the same rites. That said, the practices in the United States and Canada continue to incorporate the original Samhain imagery of harvest (pumpkins, apple bobbing, sharing treats with others), the souls of the dead walking the earth (haunted houses, ghosts, and later vampires and zombies), and witchcraft practices (use of familiars such as black cats). 

As with all of these messages, these observations represent my own understanding of these holidays, and are not meant to take a position on religious practice in any way. I welcome all feedback for corrections or to say that you appreciated this summary.

Want to read more?

On Wiccan and Neo-Pagan Samhain holiday

On Roman Catholic All Saints Day and All Souls Day

On Protestant Practices of All Saints Day and Reformation Day

http://www.abpnews.com/content/view/5818/9/ (this Associated Baptist Press opinion piece reflects some of the debate among Baptists regarding the holiday)

http://www.cbn.com/spirituallife/onlinediscipleship/halloween/reformation_day.aspx (Christian Broadcasting Networking calling for the repurposing of Halloween as Reformation Day)

On Day of the Dead

On Halloween as a Secular Holiday (including sales figures)


On Opposition to Halloween Celebrations

The Pat Robertson episode http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UaFiQfta6SM

On the Intertwined History of Samhain, Pomona Day, All Saints Day and Hallowe’en

Clip Art Sources

The Samhain greeting is from

The Samhain altar is from http://paganwiccan.about.com/od/samhainoctober31/ig/Samhain-Altar-Gallery/
The image of soul cakes is at http://allrecipes.co.uk/recipe/8607/soul-cakes.aspx

The image for All Saints Day comes from

The site about.com provides a wide assortment of holiday images for free. the Happy Halloween clip art is at http://0.tqn.com/d/desktoppub/1/0/l/h/3/01GhostCard2-Publisher2010.PNG
while the cornucopia at the same site is at

The picture of trick or treaters comes from the Hem of His Garment Bible Study page suggesting Christian Halloween alternatives at http://www.hem-of-his-garment-bible-study.org/Christian-Halloween-alternatives.html

The charts for Halloween sales is from the National Retail Federation  https://nrf.com/media/press-releases/halloween-spending-reach-9-billion

Pet costume photo is from extremehalloween.com at http://www.extremehalloween.com/pet.htm

The photo of a Swedish cemetery on All Souls Day is taken from  http://jinge.se/dagens-bild/de-hadangangnas-dag-dagens-bild.htm

Thw image of Pomona is from the Wilson Almanac blog at  http://wilsonsalmanac.blogspot.com/2005/09/month-of-september.html

The image of Pope Gregory III is from the history site Mindserpent.com at

The image of Pope Gregory IV is from the Gregory IV page of the Cultural Catholic website at http://www.culturalcatholic.com/PopeGregoryVII.htm

The image of St. Odilo of Cluny is from the Saints SPQN website at http://saints.sqpn.com/saint-odilo-of-cluny/

The statue of Mictecacihuatl is taken from http://media.photobucket.com/image/mictecacihuatl/fatalignorance/Spanish%203/mictecacihuatl.jpg?o=1

The guitar-playing skeleton is from the free clip art collection Picture This at http://leehansen.blogspot.com/2008/10/day-of-dead-skeleton-musician.html
  • Dress up as Bible Heroes
  • Politely refuse any candy offered to you.
  • Instead, give out candy wrapped in the witnessing stickers to every home that you visit."