I don’t know a child who doesn’t like to use their imagination, especially when it comes to dressing up in costume and pretending to be someone/thing else! How fun it is to be a superhero, first responder, or beautiful princess for a night. For this reason, Halloween has always been an exciting and fun holiday. Not only are children rewarded with candy for knocking on a door in costume, but there’s also great fun in sharing the excitement of the costume you chose or made with others.
When I was a child, we were not allowed to dress up as anything evil or demonic – Halloween was meant for fun, beautiful, and heroic costumes. I remember all too well the houses in our neighborhood that got too into the darkness of Halloween. Their creepy front lawns were transformed into eerie graveyards and murder scenes. Haunted music would even drift down the walkway of some. Then there were the adults in horrific costumes, such as twisted clowns, who jumped out at unsuspecting kids who dared to knock on their door. Needless to say, we always skipped those houses.
Over the years, that darkness seems to have prevailed more and more. The choices for costumes has taken an ugly turn for the worst. All of a sudden the evil villains are the glorified characters everyone is clearing off the rack. It’s hard to steer our children past all the creepy front lawns, and they certainly can’t unsee some of the twisted images they encounter. Halloween has become exhausting! As parents we are avoiding, redirecting, and explaining…a LOT of explaining. But, did you know that Halloween is a Catholic tradition?
All Saint’s Day, which begins with the vigil on All Hallow’s Eve (Evening of the Holy Ones), is actually a holy day of obligation in the Church. This means that just as Catholics are obligated to participate in the Mass on Sundays, in honor of the third commandment (keep holy the Sabbath), so they are also obligated and bound to participate on days of obligation outside of Sundays. These days are deemed to be set apart from ordinary days of worship, owing special celebration by the body of Christ universal, due to their elevation of importance and significance. A solemnity, as these days are called, are formal rites and ceremonies upheld in the Church.
Why All Saints?
All Hallow’s Eve, which leads into All Saints Day on November 1st, and All Soul’s Day on November 2nd, are intimately connected. There are three states of the Church – the Church Triumphant (saints and angels in heaven), the Church suffering (souls being cleansed in purgatory), and the Church militant (Church on earth). Often we are so preoccupied with our own trials on earth, that we forget about and neglect the other states of the body of Christ.
For this reason the Church sets aside special days to remember these other states. On All Saint’s Day, we honor the work of God in his holy ones, and ask them to pray for us in a special way. On All Soul’s Day, we remember our faithful departed, especially through our prayers for them. The body of Christ is always one – though temporarily separated across our states of life in Christ. Never should we forget one another, until we are all united as one in eternity.
Sometimes called the Days of the Dead, the reality of the invisible supernatural are recognized. This includes angels, as well as demons, the dead already rewarded for their faithfulness in heaven, as well as those awaiting their place in the heavenly courts. Despite the fact that some people gravitate more toward the fascination with the demonic, All Hallow’s Eve, or Halloween is actually a Catholic tradition and not of pagan or satanic origin.
- The date of November 1st was chosen by Pope Gregory III in 844 A.D. to coincide with a chapel in St. Peter’s Basilica dedicated to the saints in heaven.
- Bones and relics of the saints were displayed on these days in churches, for veneration.
- Irish Catholic used to bang pots and pans on Halloween to bring awareness of the reality of hell, and the damnation that awaits those who turn away from God in this life.
- French Catholics brought their tradition of dressing up in costume for All Saints Day.
- Irish Catholics used to carve turnips, which turned into carving pumpkins. The origin is not entirely clear, as it is in some cases associated with a folklore, the warding off of evil spirits, or the face of a suffering soul in purgatory.
- English Catholics and Protestants begged from door to door for “Soul Cakes,” promising to pray for the dead.
Holy or Occult?
The only way Halloween can properly be celebrated, is in the context of the Church. Outside of faith, these practices become corrupted and allow for participation in the occult. Many of these Catholic practices are greatly misunderstood by our Protestant brothers, and therefore are quickly associated with the many pagan practices that were past practiced in pre-Christian societies throughout the year. Without the truth of history and tradition, our holy practices are sometimes associated with these, and can seem archaic, evil, and even fearful. Here are some of the ways to keep All Hallow’s Eve, hallow (holy):
- Catholics are obligated to participate in the Mass on November 1st (All Saint’s Day).
- Catholics should pray for the faithful departed in a special way on November 2nd (All Soul’s Day).
- Children can rightly dress up as saints, to honor those praying for us in heaven.
- Children can also dress up as heroic, fun, and beautiful images to celebrate this feast.
- Veneration of the relics of saints is especially practiced on these days.
- Cultural Catholic traditions associated with these holy days, such as dressing up and celebrating, should be practiced in their right and holy context.