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Halloween and All Saints' Day

Updated: Oct 26, 2022

Author: Viktor Emmanuel I. Aurellana, RCJ

What is All Saints Day?

All Saints' Day is a solemn holy day celebrated annually on the 1st of November. The day is dedicated to the saints of the Church, that is, all those who have attained Heaven.

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Although millions of people may already be saints, All Saints' Day observances tend to focus on known saints --that is, those recognized in the canon of the saints by the Catholic Church.

What was All Saints Day called initially?

The idea for All Saints' Day goes back to the fourth century when the Greek Christians kept a festival on the first Sunday after Pentecost (in late May or early June) in honor of all martyrs and saints. The 13th of May was initially designated as the Feast of All Holy Martyrs. Later, in 835AD or 837AD, Pope Gregory IV extended the festival to remember all the saints, changed its name to Feast of All Saints, and changed the date to the 1st of November.

Why do we celebrate All Saints Day?

The Christian celebration of All Saints' Day stems from a belief that there is a powerful spiritual bond between those in Heaven (the "Church triumphant") and the living (the "Church militant"). In Catholic theology, the day commemorates all who have attained the beatific vision in HeavenHeaven. As such, individuals throughout the Church Universal are honored, such as Paul the Apostle, Augustine of Hippo, and, in addition to individuals who have personally led one to faith in Jesus, such as one's grandmother or friend.

What is the symbol for All Saints Day?

Symbols commonly associated with All Saints' Day are:

  • A sheaf of wheat. (It symbolizes immortality and resurrection. But, like many symbols found on gravestones, they can have more than one meaning. For instance, the sheaf of wheat can represent the Body of Christ. Wheat can also represent long life, usually more than three score and ten or seventy years.)

  • Rayed Manus Dei (hand of God). (The hand of God (Manus Dei) symbolizes God the Father. It was virtually the only symbol for God used during the first eight centuries of the Church. The hand represents God's ownership of and providence for all of creation and comes from the many references to the 'God's hand' in the Bible.)

  • The crown. (together with the scepter, a symbol of Christ's triumphant reign over all creation)

  • Symbols (including images) of individual saints.

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Why was All Saints Day created?

Historically, All Saints' Day was formally started by Pope Boniface IV, who consecrated the Pantheon at Rome to the Virgin Mary and all the Martyrs on the 13th of May in 609 AD. Boniface IV also established All Souls' Day, which follows All Saints. The choice of the day may have been intended to co-opt the pagan holiday "Feast of the Lamures," a day that pagans used to appease the restless spirits of the dead. The holy day was eventually established on the 1st of November by Pope Gregory III in the mid-eighth century as a day dedicated to the saints and their relics. The 13th May celebration was subsequently abandoned.

How did the celebration of Halloween become scary?

Two words smushed together. "Hallow" — or holy person — refers to the saints celebrated on All Saints' Day, the 1st of November. The "een" part of the word is a contraction of "eve" — or evening before. So basically, Halloween is an old-fashioned way of saying "the night before All Saints' Day" — also called Hallowmas or All Hallows' Day.

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Halloween falls on the 31st of October because the ancient Gaelic festival of Samhain considered the earliest known root of Halloween, occurred on this day. It marked a pivotal time of year when seasons changed. Still, more importantly, observers also believed the boundary between this world and the next became especially thin at this time, enabling them to connect with the dead. Some other cultures share this belief; a similar idea is mentioned around the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur, which also typically occurs in October and involves saying prayers for the dead. This is also where Halloween gains its "haunted" connotations.

Irish folk figure Jack O'Lantern.

Ancient Celts dressed up as evil spirits to confuse demons.

How should Catholics respond to an evil-centered celebration of Halloween?

As part of evangelizing and purifying our faith expressions, our activities should align with our beliefs, not simply go with what is popular/ in-style/fashionable. Also, dressing up kids/adults in scary costumes is an expression of glorifying the fallen spirits / More seriously, mixing with scary costumes and a sense of fun contributes to the desensitization to cruelty, violence, and suffering brought by evil spirits. But the case of Christ on the cross is different. Jesus freely embraced his passion, not for the sake of suffering but for the redemption of man from sin.

As Catholics, how can we meaningfully celebrate Halloween with holiness aside from honoring the saints thru costumes?

  • Go to confession

  • Attend the Mass

  • Do-preparation-for-death devotions.

  • Observe Halloween as a day of penance

  • Read books about Christ's victory over sin and death, and the meaning of death (Dante's Divine Comedy, Thomas More's The Four Last Things)

  • Mock evil! as conquered by Christ!

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