This week we celebrate Halloween. Here in the Bible belt we hear of the “paganism” of this night and some are trying hard to remove the fun day/night from our society. Remembering saints and martyrs and dedicating a specific day to them each year has been a Christian tradition since the 4th century. In 609, Pope Boniface IV decided to remember all martyrs and originally May 13th was designated as the Feast of All Holy Martyrs. We know that Pope Gregory IV in 835 moved the commemoration of martyrs from May 13th to November 1st and extended the celebration to include all the saints, changing the name to the Feast of All Saints. The night before became known as All Hallows Eve, or “holy evening,” and eventually it became Halloween.
Whether Pope Gregory was trying to simulate pagan peoples of Ireland and England into the church will always be up for debate. There are no medieval writings which tell that the pagan peoples of these lands gathered and celebrated a major Celtic festival on the eve of winter. In contrast New Year was a huge pagan celebration. However, it was the Irish farmers living in Ireland hundreds of years ago which prepared for the All Saints Day and the following All Souls Day the night before, by going door-to-door collecting food and goods for a village feast and bonfire. Those who contributed were promised prosperity; those who didn’t received threats of bad luck. And yes you are right, the Irish Catholics who immigrated in the 1800’s brought this practice of “trick-or-treating” with them. The rest is the great United States use of advertising and commercialism. Next to Christmas, Halloween is the largest money “maker holiday” for businesses. Unfortunately our society has turned a night of prayer and celebration into one of haunted houses, witches and ghosts.
We also celebrate All Souls Day on November 2nd. It could be said that All Souls Day is the Catholic Church’s Memorial Day/Month. The Month of November begins with the feast of All Saints’ Day, followed by All Souls’ Day. We distinguish between our beloved dead who are in heaven, “all saints,” who pray for us and our loved ones who have died and for whom we are moved to pray. These are the poor souls who still may be undergoing the purging process of death-to-self that follows repentance. In the month of harvest and dying, the Catholic Church memorializes the dead and recognizes Jesus as Lord of the living and the dead.