A reader asks, "I was curious if it was anti-Pagan to celebrate Halloween? I'm sort of worried it might seem disrespectful to go out collecting candy while I'm supposed to be honoring the spirits of my dead ancestors. How do Halloween and Samhain relate if at all to one another?"
This is actually an excellent question - and the short answer is, "You can celebrate Halloween if you want to!" Not only that, you can celebrate Samhain as well.
Much like Yule and Christmas, Samhain and Halloween are two different ways of observing the same time of year. Think of Samhain as the spiritual version, and Halloween as the secular. There's no reason at all why you can't celebrate both if you choose. In our family, we do a huge Halloween party with friends and family. I also do a Samhain ritual with my coven. There's never been a conflict.
How do Samhain and Halloween relate to one another? Well, the "trick or treat" Halloween evolved from the British tradition of All Soul's Day. Poor people went begging, and the middle-class wives handed out special treats known as Soul Cakes. By the nineteenth century, this tradition had followed British and Irish immigrants to America, and by then, begging for goodies wasn't just the domain of the poor, it was a kids' activity. Following the Great Depression and World War II, the notion of giving away candy really took off, and so today's candy-deluged Halloween celebration was born.
I do realize there is a small portion of the Pagan community that finds the whole Halloween thing off-putting, and I've heard the occasional complaint that Halloween trivializes Samhain. However, my opinion is that there's no reason you can't observe the solemnity of Samhain in addition to the fun of Halloween. I've been Pagan for over two decades, and just don't feel that a gaggle of kids collecting candy and dressed like the Jonas Brothers has any bearing whatsoever on my religious obligations or needs. My ancestors know that I honor them and respect them, and they don't seem to be troubled by my love of Reese's Peanut Butter Cups.
Often, too, the question comes up of whether or not celebrating a mundane event -- like Thanksgiving or Fourth of July or Halloween -- somehow lessens the value our spiritual celebrations. Honestly, eating a turkey or lighting fireworks or snarfing down candy only diminishes your spiritual holidays if you allow it to. There are plenty of Pagans who ask, "Should I celebrate this with my family, when it's not part of my Pagan belief system?" It's a question that each individual has to answer for themselves, but as long as your tradition doesn't have a specific mandate against it, I'd say go ahead and celebrate however you like.