Is Celebrating Halloween a Good Idea for Sikhs?

What You should Know Before You Celebrate All Hallow’s Eve

Sikhi Stye Jack O Lanterns
Sikhi Stye Jack O Lanterns. Photo © [S Khalsa]

Halloween in America

Halloween is an autumn holiday with both secular and religious overtones. In America it’s hard to ignore Halloween celebrations especially if you have children. Commonly, during the entire month of October, school classroom art projects focus on Halloween. Stores display Halloween candy, masks, costumes, and assorted knickknacks. Sikh immigrant’s new to America may be wondering what Halloween is all about.

Festivities occur October 31st. Traditionally after the sun has set children in costumes go house to house and "Trick or Treat" for candy. Sikh families with young children may wonder whether it’s a good idea to let children participate. Before making such a decision it’s a good idea to have all the facts.

Halloween and Paganism

Halloween has its roots in ancient European Pagan harvest rites and the Gaelic festival of Samhein. The word Halloween comes from an ancient Celtic term Eallra Halgen Aefen which translates to mean All Hallows Eve or the evening before All Saints Day. Ancient Pagans believed that spirits of the dead would wander at harvest time and could spoil crops. In a bid to pacify the spirits of the deceased, Pagans attempted to masquerade as the dead on All Hallows Eve by blackening their faces or donning death masks. They sacrificed farm animals and cast the bones of the slaughtered beasts into bonfires to appease the spirits and ward them away from their fields.

A skull or skeleton might be displayed in a window along with lanterns carved from hollowed out rutabagas roots. Pagans today continue to observe Samhein as an occasion to honor ancestors.

Halloween as a Religious Holiday

Halloween is the Eve of All Saints Day celebrated by modern Catholics on November 1st.

Originally celebrated around the time of Easter, All Saints Day dates back to the fourth century as a Catholic day of commemoration for Christian martyrs. In the ninth century Pope Gregory III changed the date to coincide with the Pagan harvest festival. All Saints Day is a Holy Day of Obligation for Catholics and attending mass is required.

Halloween the "Trick or Treat" Holiday

Halloween is celebrated October 31st anytime of day but especially after dark. Adults often attend masquerade parties. Children traditionally dress up in costumes and go out after sundown to "Trick or Treat" door to door while carrying a bag for collecting candy. In early America, "Trick or Treat" meant exactly that. Young men roamed the country side visiting farmsteads and threatening to play tricks on farmers such as turning over an outhouse or throwing eggs unless they received treats like home a baked pie or cookies. Modern day Halloween is a highly commercialized event involving sales of spooky Halloween paraphernalia and party items such as bags of candy, masks, costumes, toy spiders, black cats, and pumpkins. Jack O Lanterns carved from pumpkin shells and lit by candles are a popular tradition because Halloween festivities take place after dark.

Traditional creepy costumes like skeletons, witches, wizards, ghosts, ghouls, goblins, vampires, werewolves, black cats, are popular. Modern Costumes may be based on movie, television, and cartoon characters such as super heroes, pirates, and princesses.

Concerns and Cautionary Measures

Because of the nature of the holiday anything can happen on Halloween. Poison and sharp objects hidden in treats are terrible tricks which have been played in past years and are always a possibility. Parents are advised to accompany any child going house to house and check all treats for trickery and tampering before allowing them to be eaten. Many parents opt for private parties rather than risk letting their children "Trick or Treat" door to door. Pets, especially black cats, are sometimes targeted and should be kept indoors.

Halloween and the 1984 Delhi Massacre of Sikhs

Halloween and All Saints day are poignant reminders to Sikhs of the 1984 Delhi Massacre. Many thousands of Sikhs lost their lives in the Delhi riots following the assassination of Indira Ghandi in retaliation for her 1984 June attack on the Sikhs in the Golden Temple. On October 31, 1984, marauding mobs bent on mayhem and murder caroused through the streets carrying clubs, knives, and kerosene randomly killing Sikhs. On November 1, 1984, the rioting spread like flames being fanned by a hot wind. The carnage lasted four days before efforts were made to bring the bloodshed under control. Police looked the other way or stood by watching innocent families butchered. No one has ever been held accountable.

Deciding How to Spend Your Holidays

A Sikh has to come to a decision about how to conduct life based on the understanding and willingness to follow Sikh principles. Ask yourself in which direction you desire to grow. Reflect on how your actions affect others ultimately. The initiated Khalsa Sikh has no ties to festivities outside of Sikhism. However celebrating with others is not considered a breach of conduct in the strictest sense. If you wish to excuse or exclude yourself do so with humility, so that you cause no hurt. If a situation occurs which does not allow you to bow out gracefully, but will not violate your oath as Khalsa and you find yourself reluctantly joining in activities with family or friends you’d rather not be part of, do so whole heartedly with love. A true Sikh remains focused on the relationship with the divine no matter what activities are taking place, whether sacred or secular.

October 31st is an occasion many Sikhs will want to observe in commemoration of loved ones lost in the Delhi riots. When deciding how to spend your holidays, if you choose to participate in Halloween consider making it an opportunity to show the world Khalsa traditions:

  • Greet Trick or Treaters with the sacred sounds of Amrit Kirtan.
  • Make your Jack O Lantern a Sikh O Lantern and carve it with a Sikh symbol to commemorate the fallen Sikhs of 1984.
  • Carry on the tradition of langar by distributing sacred sweets made with love and meditation, like naam ladoo, to whomever comes to your door.
  • So that parents have confidence that your treats are safe, hand out leaflets with your treats explaining who a Sikh is, and the 3 golden rules of Sikhism, or top 10 Sikh beliefs.