Halloween, often feared by Evangelicals, is not the satanic celebration of evil it is sometimes portrayed to be. Catholics know this is a day to celebrate, not to frighten. In that vein, Catholic Christians often choose to dress as saints or other characters we admire, as well as poking a bit of fun at the devil. After all, he has already lost the battle; Jesus Christ the Savior was victorious 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.
The eve of October 31st, as well as the days of November 1st and 2nd, are unofficially called the “Days of the Dead” – these are the days we pray for or remember those no longer dwelling on this earth. We celebrate all the Saints in Heaven All Saints’ Day (also known as All Hallows’) on the evening of October 31 and November 1st. Then, on the day after All Hallows’, we remember the saved souls who are in Purgatory being purged of the temporal effects of the sins committed during their lifetime, before they can enter Heaven.
It might be beneficial to look at these three days of Halloween as follows:
- October 31 – Halloween (All Hallows Eve) recalls the reality of hell and reminds us to consider ways to avoid it. Damned souls are remembered as a warning and the faithful 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. The Church Triumphant is recognized on this day by recalling great saints as well as those uncanonized saints not known to us.
- November 2 – While not a Holy Day of Obligation, we remember to pray for the Church Suffering – those souls who are still in Purgatory – on All Souls Day. Remembering our deceased loved ones during this time, and having a Mass said for them, is a Corporal Work of Mercy.
The Origin of All Saints Day
The earliest form of All Saints Day was originally 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 saints had been 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.
In Irish popular piety, the evening before, Halloween (All Hallows or “Hallows’ Eve”) became a day of remembering the dead who are damned. These customs spread to many parts of the world, thus initiating the popular focus of Halloween as the reality of Hell. As a result, scary characters, focus on evil and how to avoid it, and the sad fate of damned souls captured the imagination.
Some traditional circles find the celebration – even whether or not to celebrate it at all – to be controversial. We often hear that Halloween is a pagan holiday – quite contrary to the meaning and authentic origin of Halloween. 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 isn’t true. It’s also rather amusing that October 31 is also “Reformation Day” in Protestant circles – recalling Luther’s having nailed his 95 Theses to Wittenberg’s cathedral door.
As with many Church celebrations, commercialization/secularization of the holiday and popular myths proclaiming a pagan origin, result in some refusing to celebrate Halloween 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. Hopefully, whatever your family decides, it’s vital to keep the facts straight, and to refrain from judging others who decide to celebrate Halloween differently or not at all. As in all instances of our lives, charity is key.
If your family would like to celebrate Halloween, here’s a bit of trivia and some suggestions:
- The customs of Halloween are a mixture 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 Halloween include cider, nuts, popcorn, and apples – and are best eaten around a fire.
- Bobbing for apples on Halloween is an old Celtic custom.
- Dressing up as a saint can be a springboard for learning about their lives and their special graces.
- Saint costumes provide an opportunity to teach others about those who loved God so much.
- Incorporating the wearing of costumes into a visit to a nursing home is an act of charity – bringing a bit of joy to the elderly and lonely.
If done with an eye toward faith, Halloween offers an enjoyable holiday for your family. It brings an opportunity to teach children about the reality of evil and hell, the reassurance that evil was conquered by Jesus, and the hope of Heaven 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.
Those of us in the earthly Church Militant should remind others of the power of the Holy Name of Jesus, sacramentals, and prayers such as the St. Michael Prayer. And don’t forget to pray for the intercession of the saints. Pray that those who don’t know Jesus will come to know His love and mercy. Jesus, the God-Man, who loved us so much that He allowed himself to suffer and die for us!