Spooky costumes, chocolate candies, and glowing pumpkins were not always what Halloween was all about. Unknown to most Americans, Halloween also has Christian ties despite its deepest roots being decidedly pagan.
Halloween is short for All Hallow's Eve and marks the night before All Saints' Day. Christians, in an effort to counter pagan rituals to death and evil spirits, created an alternative tradition – All Hallow's Day on Nov. 1.
The tradition dates back to the time of the first Christian martyrs. According to third century historian Eusebius, second century Christian bishop Polycarp had kindly greeted and set a table of food for the soldiers who came to his house to arrest him in exchange for an hour to pray.
When Polycarp was taken to the coliseum he was pressed to denounce his faith, but instead said: "For eighty-six years, I have been [Christ's] servant, and He has never done me wrong: How can I blaspheme my King who saved me?"
Polycarp, who was a disciple of Apostle John, was said to have been offering up prayers of faith and praise while people prepared to burn him alive.
Following his death, Christians gathered annually at Polycarp's grave to remember his brave witness and gain courage through his example.
Gradually the day shifted focus to remembering all martyrs and the Church created the holiday to honor all of God's saints in the seventh century.
However, modern Halloween has become a day associated with darkness and secularism. The Oct. 31 holiday is said to be only second to Christmas in terms of economic activity.
Halloween is responsible for some $4-6 billion each year, according to "horror historian" David J. Skal. And even at a time when the U.S. economy is struggling and unstable, consumers have not been frightened out of opening their wallets and spending more money than ever on Halloween.
A recent survey by the National Retail Federation revealed that the average person planned to spend $66.54 on Halloween this year compared to $64.82 a year ago. Total Halloween spending for 2008 is estimated to reach $5.77 billion.
"Consumers – who have been anxious and uncertain for the past several months – may be looking at Halloween as an opportunity to forget the stresses of daily life and just have a little fun," explained NRF President and CEO Tracy Mullin.
"And with Halloween falling on a Friday this year, consumers may plan to celebrate all weekend long," added Phil Rist, NRF Vice President of Strategy for BIGresearch.
Ahead of the Halloween celebrations, Christians were urged to stock up on "spiritual treats" that feed souls rather than stomachs. Ministries including Revival Fires Ministry, IBSDirect , and others have been equipping believers with Christian comic books and Halloween leaflets to reach children with the message of Christ.
"This Halloween take the opportunity to give each child a leaflet explaining who Jesus is, and how they can accept Jesus into their lives," encouraged IBSDirect, a ministry of International Bible Society.
Other ministries advocating outreach around Halloween time include Dare 2 Share and American Tract Society, among a number of others.