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Toronto Catholic District School Board

All Hallow's Eve

A Christian Tradition

October 31, 2018


Halloween, an autumn celebration, reminder God’s name is hallowed

By Brian Killian
Canadian Catholic News (
ANTIGONISH, Canada (CCN/Atlantic Catholic) Autumn is a uniquely poetic time of year, when nature becomes melancholic and sweet. It’s also the time for celebrating Halloween, of childhood memories of hayrides and bonfires, pumpkins and Jack-O-Lanterns, leaf-covered streets and, yes, tombstones, skeletons, haunted houses, ghosts and monster movies.
Many have a soft spot for Halloween’s spooky side, as an essential ingredient of the holiday and as delicious as apple cider and doughnuts.
But there is an aura of disapproval to that side of Halloween among many Catholics. Is there nothing of value to the spookiness of Halloween?
It should be noted that Halloween is a Catholic holiday. Pope Gregory IV in 835 made it the universal practice in the Roman Catholic Church to celebrate All Saints’ Day on Nov. 1. All Souls' Day follows the next day as the commemoration of all of the faithful who have departed.
“All Hallows’ Even” as the evening before All Hallows’ Day All Saints’ Day eventually became shortened to Halloween. Hallow, as in “hallowed be thy name” in the Lord’s Prayer, is an older form of the word “holy.”
It was the Protestant Reformation that rejected the universal practice of devotion to the dead (Martin Luther dropped any references to praying for the dead from his Bible). This Catholic holiday was attacked, much like the church as a whole, for being pagan and evil. Hence I wouldn’t be surprised if this cloud of suspicion hovering over Halloween originated from the spirit of anti-Catholicism.
But Nov. 1st was the day of the Celtic Summer’s End feast of Samhain, the day when the dead returned to the earth. We have retained some of these pagan elements to Halloween, as is true of Christmas and Easter.
Why would a pope put the Catholic celebration of the dead on top of the pagans’ celebrations of the dead? Because the Catholic feasts are in continuity and fulfill the meaning of the pagan ones. This is why C.S. Lewis said that Christianity was the fulfillment of paganism.
So we don’t reject the use of trees at Christmas time because they were pagan, we continue to use them, because as symbols of life they now point to Christ. That is another great thing about Catholic feasts. The arrangement of the liturgical calendar was made with a spiritual sensitivity to the cosmos that linked our celebrations with the language of creation.
When the trees put on their most beautiful funeral dress, nature herself is inviting us to meditate on the last things. We celebrate the coming of the true light of the world and hope of man when nature’s light is at its weakest, and we celebrate the resurrection together with her rebirth in the spring.
So what about the indulgence in the spooky and scary? Skeletons are spooky, but they are also very Catholic. In fact, one couldn’t find a better haunted house for a Halloween pilgrimage than the various “chapel of bones” that can be found across Europe.
In Portugal, there is a Franciscan chapel, the walls and pillars of which are made from more than 5,000 human skulls and bones. The threshold of the chapel bears the inscription “We bones here are waiting for yours.” Another chapel is made of 40,000 bones arranged into decorations and furnishings, including a huge bone chandelier even the macabre has a place in the church!
And what are we to make of Gothic cathedrals and the gargoyles that adorn its pillars and corners? If you read to your children the prophets’ visions of the cherubim and seraphim who dwell closest to God, with lion heads and Eagle’s talons, covered in wings and eyeballs, would the child not hesitate to call it a monster?
And if those creatures bathed in God’s light are terrible to behold, what of God himself? Isn’t it interesting that we used to refer to the third person of the Trinity with the combination of the words “holy” and “ghost”? Or that whenever the Bible describes men’s encounters with God through an angel, the reaction is to fall down as though dead in fear? Could it be that horror is just another aspect of holy?
Like the sense of vertigo that is inseparable from the feeling of awe as a person reaches the top of a great height and looks out or how heat and cold seem to be opposites but become indistinguishable from each other in the extreme, so might majesty and dread, spooky and wonderful be inseparable in the Lord God.
Halloween is not just a time to think about mortality, or pray for the dead. It is a time to learn again what it means that the Lord’s name is hallowed. Halloween is the feast of the holy, and we learn why the angels surrounding God’s throne cover their eyes with their wings, and what it means to pray with them: “Holy, holy, holy Lord God of hosts.”
And to learn the fear of the Lord before, in the dead of winter, we celebrate his coming to us with a human face.
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Killian writes from Antigonish County for The Atlantic Catholic.


Should Catholics Celebrate Halloween?

By Scott P. Richert, Guide
A Controversial Holiday:
Every year, a debate rages among Catholics and other Christians: Is Halloween a satanic holiday or merely a secular one? Should Catholic children dress up like ghosts and goblins? Is it good for children to be scared? Lost in the debate is the history of Halloween, which, far from being a pagan religious event, is actually a Christian celebration that's almost 1,300 years old.
The Christian Origins of Halloween:
"Halloween" is a name that means nothing by itself. It is a contraction of "All Hallows Eve," and it designates the vigil of All Hallows Day, more commonly known today as All Saints Day1. ("Hallow," as a noun, is an old English word for saint. As a verb, it means to make something holy or to honor it as holy.) All Saints Day, November 1, is a Holy Day of Obligation2, and both the feast and the vigil have been celebrated since the early eighth century, when they were instituted by Pope Gregory III in Rome. (A century later, they were extended to the Church at large by Pope Gregory IV.)
The Pagan Origins of Halloween:
Despite concerns among some Catholics and other Christians in recent years about the "pagan origins" of Halloween, there really are none. The first attempts to show some connection between the vigil of All Saints and the Celtic harvest festival of Samhain came over a thousand years after All Saints Day became a universal feast, and there's no evidence whatsoever that Gregory III or Gregory IV was even aware of Samhain.In Celtic peasant culture, however, elements of the harvest festival survived, even among Christians, just as the Christmas tree owes its origins to pre-Christian Germanic traditions without being a pagan ritual.
Combining the Pagan and the Christian:
The Celtic elements included lighting bonfires, carving turnips (and, in America, pumpkins), and going from house to house, collecting treats, as carolers do at Christmas. But the "occult" aspects of Halloween—ghosts and demons—actually have their roots in Catholic belief. Christians believed that, at certain times of the year (Christmas is another), the veil separating earth from Purgatory, heaven, and even hell becomes more thin, and the souls in Purgatory (ghosts) and demons can be more readily seen. Thus the tradition of Halloween costumes owes as much, if not more, to Christian belief as to Celtic tradition.
The (First) Anti-Catholic Attack on Halloween:
The current attacks on Halloween aren't the first. In post-Reformation England, All Saints Day and its vigil were suppressed, and the Celtic peasant customs associated with Halloween were outlawed. Christmas and the traditions surrounding it were similarly attacked, and the Puritan Parliament banned Christmas outright in 1647. In America, Puritans outlawed the celebration of both Christmas and Halloween, which were revived largely by German Catholic (in the case of Christmas) and Irish Catholic (in the case of Halloween) immigrants in the 19th century.
The Commercialization of Halloween:
Continued opposition to Halloween was largely an expression of anti-Catholicism (as well as anti-Irish prejudice). But by the early 20th century, Halloween, like Christmas, was becoming highly commercialized. Pre-made costumes, decorations, and special candy all became widely available, and the Christian origins of the holiday were downplayed.
The rise of horror films, and especially the slasher films of the late 70's and 80's, contributed to Halloween's bad reputation, as did the claims of putative Satanists and Wiccans, who created a mythology in which Halloween had been their festival, co-opted later by Christians.
The (Second) Anti-Catholic Attack on Halloween:
A new backlash against Halloween by non-Catholic Christians began in the 1980's, in part because of claims that Halloween was the devil's night; in part because of urban legends about poisons and razor blades in Halloween candy; and in part because of an explicit opposition to Catholicism. Jack Chick, a rabidly anti-Catholic fundamentalist who distributes Bible tracts in the form of small comic books, helped lead the charge.
By the late 1990's, many Catholic parents, unaware of the anti-Catholic origins of the attack on Halloween, had begun to question Halloween as well, and alternative celebrations became popular.
Alternatives to Halloween Activities:
Ironically, one of the most popular Christian alternatives to celebrating Halloween is a secular "Harvest Festival," which has more in common with the Celtic Samhain than it does with the Catholic All Saints Day. There's nothing wrong with celebrating the harvest, but there's no need to strip such a celebration of connections with the Christian liturgical calendar.
Another popular Catholic alternative is an All Saints Party, usually held on Halloween and featuring costumes (of saints rather than ghouls) and candy. At best, though, this is an attempt to Christianize an already Christian holiday.
Making Your Decision:
In the end, the choice is yours to make as a parent. If you choose, as my wife and I do, to let your children participate in Halloween, simply stress the need for physical safety (including checking over their candy when they return home), and explain the Christian origins of Halloween to your children. Before you send them off trick-or-treating, recite together3 the Prayer to Saint Michael the Archangel4, and explain that, as Catholics, we believe in the reality of evil5. Tie the vigil explicitly to the Feast of All Saints, and explain to your children why we celebrate that feast, so that they won't view All Saints Day as "the boring day when we have to go to church before we can eat some more candy."
Let's reclaim Halloween for Christians, by returning to its roots in the Catholic Church!
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