I raised my nine children in the shadow of other dedicated Catholic mothers, mostly homeschoolers, who thought Halloween was evil, dedicated to witches. Their children were not allowed to celebrate with their neighbors but went to a church basement to celebrate All Saints Eve.
This church was an hour away from us. More importantly, I felt my children suffered enough because of a perceived alienation from their peers. At our tiny, Catholic, country school, everyone dressed up for the day and often joined friends afterward to go door to door. I did not want to deny my kids the joy and creative fun which surrounded this cultural, childhood tradition.
If you have any concerns about observing Halloween with your children, please read It’s Time for Catholics to Embrace Halloween by Father Steve Grunow over at Word on Fire. I wish I had been able to read Father Steve Grunow’s research and commentary thirty years ago. He would have saved me a lot of grief because, although I let my kids celebrate Halloween, often dressed as a saint, I felt guilty. I learned something new, something liberating, which freed me from decades of guilt.
GUESS WHAT? HALLOWEEN IS CATHOLIC!
October 31st, November 1st and 2nd, are the “Days of the Dead” because Catholics pray for, or remember, those who have passed through the thin veil which separates life from death. All Hallows’ Eve, on the evening of October 31 is the night before All Saints’ Day on November 1st. Then, on the day after All Hallows’, we remember souls who are in Purgatory.
The True Origins of Halloween
We often hear that Halloween is a pagan holiday but this is not true.
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 spread until Pope Sylvester II recommended it for the entire Latin Church.
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, starting the popular focus of Halloween on evil, scary characters and the fate of damned souls.
The customs of Halloween are a mixture of Catholic popular devotions and regional French, Irish, and English customs. Dressing up comes from the French. Carved Jack-o-lanterns come from the Irish. English Catholics initiated the custom of begging from door to door. 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.
Just as Christmas is still Christmas despite our culture’s attempt to ruin it, Halloween is still a holy day for Catholics despite our culture’s desire to make it something ugly. As Catholics, when we boycott Halloween, we pull back from our own festival. Rather than withdraw or label Halloween as evil, let’s reclaim our Catholic roots and celebrate Halloween with joy.