Visiting a local DIY store I noticed an entire floor area devoted to Halloween paraphernalia. There’s obviously money in Ghoulish skeletons, witches and demon like masks. Like it or loathe it, there’s no escaping the marketing operation for Halloween that begins in early September. The Halloween that is being marketed has little to do with the Christian origins of the feast or its real significance.
The Feast of All Saints which we celebrate on November 1st was established by Pope Gregory III in the 8th century as a day to honour all the countless saints who have died, those with church recognition and those who died in obscurity. The following day November 2nd we celebrate all souls day, the day when we pray for all the dead including our own loved ones. Halloween – literally All Hallows Eve is simply the evening before All Saints day.
On this night, light, a long time symbol of life in Jesus was used to ward off evil spirits and welcome the good ones. Candles were lit and placed inside hollowed out turnips and pumpkins. Children would dress up in masks and go ‘souling’ from door to door seeking ‘soul cakes’ for those in purgatory.
With the passage of time many of these Christian traditions were lost or obscured so that the Halloween of today has become a strange festival of ghouls and beasties and things that go bump in the night. While on one level it’s all a bit of fun, it’s a pity that the deeper Christian significance of Halloween is all but lost on the younger generation in particular. In reality it’s a great opportunity for families to inculcate respect for their dead, and to honour them.
Why not reclaim something of the Christian significance of the celebration?
Why not carve your pumpkin with a Cross instead of a smiley face reminding your family that Christ’s light conquers the darkness of death and shines for them.
You could also take out family photos of deceased family members like Grandparents, aunts and uncles and display them on Halloween, inviting the family to pray for them together maybe with a decade of the rosary. This could be done before the kids go ‘trick or treating’ and might make sense of what risks being lost completely under a mountain of meaningless paraphernalia.
Fr. Philip Curran