Every All Hallows’ Eve, Hallowe’en, or Halloween – whichever name is preferred – questions arise as to whether or not it is an acceptable holiday for Catholics. The devil, it is said, is in the details. That is why it is imperative to delve into the historical aspects of Halloween in determining whether or not participation in the festivities merits our moral approval.
The Origins of Halloween
What is found upon closer investigation is that the holiday has been hijacked by secularism. You see, the devil loves to insinuate himself into what is is historically observed by Christians. He then attempts to make it his own.
Yet once we realize the origins of Hallowe’en, we find that this is a day to celebrate, not to frighten. In that vein, we Catholic Christians choose to dress as saints or other characters we admire, as well as poking a bit of fun at the devil. After all, his battle has already been lost. Jesus Christ the Savior won that victory when He became Man and dwelt among us. He even allowed the devil to tempt Him, as an illustration of the power of Light over Darkness.
Historical Days of the Dead
Sometimes the eve of October 31st, as well as the days of November 1st and 2nd, are unofficially called the “Days of the Dead”. After all, these are the days we remember and pray for those no longer dwelling on this earth. We celebrate all the Saints in Heaven on All Saints’ Day, also known as All Hallows’, on the evening of October 31 and the day of November 1st. Then, on the day after All Hallows’, we remember the saved souls who are in Purgatory. There they are purged of the temporal effects of the sins committed during their lifetime, so that they can enter Heaven.
Observe Halloween With Faith
It might be beneficial to consider these three days of Hallowe’en as follows:
- October 31 – Hallowe’en (All Hallows Eve) is a time to recall the reality of hell and work through the best ways to avoid it. We remember that there are damned souls and vow not to join them. Many Catholics attend Mass on the evening of this day, as a fulfillment of their All Saints Day obligation. This is also the evening that many children dress up and collect sweet treats from neighbors and friends.
- November 1 – All Saints Day is officially a Holy Day of Obligation. We honor the Church Triumphant on this day by recalling our great saints as well as those uncanonized saints not known to us.
- November 2 – All Souls Day is not a Holy Day of Obligation. We do, however, remember to pray for the Church Suffering – those souls who are still in Purgatory. Remembering our deceased loved ones and having a Mass said for them is a Corporal Work of Mercy.
The Origins of All Saints Day
Originally, the earliest form of All Saints Day was celebrated on May 13. As it has been since the 300’s, this is still the case in some Eastern Churches. Initially, only the martyrs were commemorated, but by 741, all of the saints were included.
It wasn’t until the year 844 that Pope Gregory III transferred the Feast Day to November 1st. This was the year he consecrated a chapel in St. Peter’s Basilica to All Saints. This should put to rest the theory that the date of All Saints Day was fixed because of the harvest festival of the Irish pagans.
All Souls Day originated with the Bishop of Cluny, who in A.D. 1048, decreed that the Benedictines of Cluny pray for the souls in Purgatory on this day. The practice further spread until it was recommended for the entire Latin Church by Pope Sylvester II.
Practices Developed Over Time
In Irish popular piety, the evening before, Hallowe’en (All Hallows or “Hallows’ Eve”) became a day of remembering the dead who are damned. These customs spread to many parts of the world. This initiated the focus of Hallowe’en as the reality of Hell. As a result, scary characters, evil and how to avoid it, and the sad fate of damned souls captured the imagination.
Halloween Is Has Catholic Roots
Some traditional circles find the celebration, and whether or not to celebrate it, to be controversial. We sometimes hear that Hallowe’en is a pagan holiday. That claim is quite contrary to the meaning and true origin of Hallowe’en.
All Hallows’ Evening, is a Catholic a holiday with roots in remembering saints, sinners, and the damned. Although some say that the holiday actually stems from Samhain, a pagan Celtic celebration, or is Satanic, this simply is not accurate.
It is also rather interesting that October 31 is also “Reformation Day” in Protestant circles – recalling Luther’s having nailed his 95 Theses to Wittenberg Cathedral door.
The Secularization of Halloween
As with many Church celebrations, commercialization/secularization of the holiday and popular myths proclaiming the origin as pagan, find some refusing to celebrate Hallowe’en at all. Others celebrate without trepidation while keeping their celebration Catholic and refraining from the ugliness that has marred the day in the secular world.
Whatever your family decides, it is vital to keep the facts straight and to refrain from judging others who decide to celebrate Hallowe’en differently or not at all. As in all instances of our lives, charity is key.
How to Observe Halloween
If your family would like to celebrate Hallowe’en, here is a bit of trivia and some suggestions:
- The customs of Hallowe’en are a combination of Catholic popular devotions, and French, Irish, and English customs all mixed together.
- The custom of dressing up comes from the French.
- Carved Jack-o-lanterns, come from the Irish, who originally carved turnips.
- English Catholics initiated the custom of begging from door to door, which was a purer form of “trick-or-treating.” Children would go door to door begging their neighbors for a “Soul Cake”. In turn, they would say a prayer for those neighbors’ dead saying,
“A Soul Cake, a Soul Cake, have mercy on all Christian souls for a soul cake!”
- Customary foods for Hallowe’en include cider, nuts, popcorn, and apples – and are best eaten around a fire.
- Bobbing for apples on Hallowe’en is an old Celtic custom.
- Dressing up as a saint can be a springboard for learning about their lives and special graces. The practice of wearing saint costumes offers the opportunity to teach others about those who loved God so much.
- Incorporating the wearing of costumes into a visit to a nursing home brings a bit of joy to the elderly and lonely.
An Eye Toward Faith
If done with an eye toward faith, Hallowe’en can be an enjoyable and faith-filled holiday for your family. It offers an opportunity to teach children about the reality of evil and hell. It also brings the reassurance that evil was conquered by Jesus, and the hope of Heaven is available for those living holy lives. After all, Satan has no power over those who live in Christ.
In balance, we must teach them to protect themselves from all things occult. Ouija boards, casting spells, and calling down spirits must not be attempted or tolerated. These things only invite the devil into our lives.
Instead, remind others of the power of the Holy Name of Jesus, sacramentals, and prayers such as the St. Michael Prayer. And do not forget to pray for the intercession of the saints – that those who do not know Jesus will come to know His love and mercy. He is the God-Man, Who loved us so much that He allowed Himself to suffer and die for us!