“Should I let my child go to that haunted house?” “Should our parish school celebrate Halloween, or should we focus on All Saints?” “Should we really decorate for a feast with pagan roots?”
Halloween or All Saints’ Day? We’re entering into a slowly ramping holiday season. People of faith may experience tension between the secular atmosphere and the Catholic feasts at their origin. As Halloween approaches, you may be wondering the best way to celebrate in a way that builds community and honors our faith traditions.
From All Saints to Wandering Spirits — The History of Halloween
Halloween and All Saints’ Day are closely connected, at least in history. In the 800s, the Catholic Church began celebrating a feast celebrating all saints together. It was — and still is — a holy day of obligation . Remember how we say “hallowed be thy name” in the Hail Mary? Hallowed is another word for holy. The feast of All Saints was originally called All Hallow’s Day or Hallowmas. In the tradition of the Church, we often begin celebrating major feasts the night before. We can see this most prominently at the Easter Vigil. A celebration for the saints began early as well on All Hallows’ Eve.
If Halloween is really about the saints in all their victorious glory, where do we get haunted houses, costumes, and pranks? All Saints’ Day became associated with the other deceased rather quickly. November 2nd is All Souls’ Day, where Catholics the world over pray for the souls in purgatory.
Throughout the European world, especially the Celtic and Germanic peoples, the dead were honored in the autumn months. The Celtic pagan celebration of Samhain had its own folk rituals and occurred around the same time as these Catholic feast days. In the British Isles, some of these traditions became incorporated into broader festivities . Within the last few hundred years, this included dressing in disguise and going door to door, asking for food in exchange for a rhyme or poem. Some people masqueraded as dark spirits and pulled pranks on others. With the large number of English and Irish immigrants in America, it’s no wonder All Hallows’ Eve has taken on a certain tone!
How Can We Celebrate?
Some Christians may want to boycott Halloween due to some pagan connections. There are plenty of reasons not to skip Halloween entirely . Most importantly — this feast was Catholic first!
Of course, we teach by the behavior we model. What we choose to emphasize and celebrate teaches children what to prioritize. There’s nothing wrong with having a Halloween party! But the next day on All Saints, does it feel like you’ve barely squeezed in the celebration of the Mass? Below are some great ways to celebrate the original meaning of the holiday.
- Consider honoring the saints this year instead! Allow students to be out of uniform on November 1st if they dress as a saint. Do families need ideas? Check out this Pinterest board. This blog offers 150 costume photos!
- Rather than be afraid of the departed, pray for them! Consider adding one of these prayers to your parish or school regimen on November 2nd.
- If you’re carving jack-o’-lanterns, talk about how the light of Christ overcomes our fears and darkness.
- Have a Halloween potluck! Bring in good food — not just candy — and have a party. As everyone has fun together, take the opportunity to briefly share about the communion of saints and the “party” of heaven!
- For older students, offer a special religion class that focuses on answering their questions about death and the afterlife. If you’re a Life Teen subscriber, check out their nights on the topic. If you’re wondering what the Catholic Church teaches about ghosts, here’s a quick primer.
- Avoid sensationalizing death, especially with the young. Halloween isn’t a time to be frightened! We rejoice in hope that — because of Jesus— we, too, can hope to be counted among the saints! Death isn’t something to fear.
Halloween isn’t something to avoid, but instead something to celebrate! How do you get creative in remembering the reason for the season?