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. He extended the celebration to include all the saints, changing 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 assimilate 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 the practice of “trick or treating” with them to America. The rest is the great United States use of advertising and commercialism. Next to Christmas, Halloween is the largest money-making “holiday” for businesses. Unfortunately, our society has turned a night of prayer and celebration into one of haunted houses, witches and ghosts.
On November the second we celebrate All Souls Day. November has been/is the month in which we remember our beloved dead in prayer in a special way. Traditionally it is in the offering of a Mass in their name. Our teaching or tradition of praying for the dead is found in the Old Testament in the twelfth chapter of 2nd Maccabees. In Maccabees is found the necessity of purgation after death, thus the name Purgatory. “A holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead that they might be loosed from their sins.” If when a person dies they either go to Heaven or Hell, the offering of sacrifice in the temple for the dead would not make sense, because those in Heaven have no need of prayer and those in Hell are there for eternity. Similar passages regarding purgation, thus pointing to a place or state in which the purgation of the soul must take place can also be found in the New Testament. Both St. Peter and St. Paul speak of a “cleansing Fire.” Please remember your beloved dead this November.