Catholics and Halloween . . . is it a good or a bad mix? Here's the scoop.
- Halloween is short for All Hallow's Eve. It is the vigil of All Saints (All Hallows) Day. All Saints Day is a Holy Day of Obligation, and thus a major feast on the Catholic Church's liturgical calendar.
- Halloween (October 31st) is connected with All Saints Day (November 1st) and All Souls Day (November 2nd). These three days taken together are the "Days of the Dead," a triduum of feasts also called Allhallowtide, Hallowtide, or Hallowmas ('hallow' means to honor as holy).
- Halloween is, therefore, the first day of Allhallowtide, the time of year when the living (i.e. the Church Militant) honors all the dead in Christ: all the saints in heaven (i.e. the Church Triumphant) as well as all the holy souls detained in purgatory on their way to heaven (i.e. the Church Suffering). It is a beautiful celebration of the communion of saints!
- Catholics historically believed that on these "Days of the Dead", their annual feast, the veil between heaven, hell, and purgatory is the thinnest (that means you might even see some souls you know!).
- Halloween begins the celebration these Christian holy days that remind the faithful of the reality of heaven and hell, the saints and the damned, demons and angels, and the holy souls suffering in purgatory.
- In the year 844 A.D. Pope Gregory III transferred the feast of All Saints (which honored especially the unknown martyrs and "hidden" saints whom we do not know by name) from May 13th to November 1st to coincide with a chapel in St. Peter's Basilica which he dedicated to all the saints in heaven. His successor, Pope Gregory IV, extended the feast of the dedication to the universal Church.
- Evening vigils with pious celebrations on the day before a major feast or solemnity were customary in historical Catholic Europe; the rhythms of their lives and culture moved with the liturgical calendar.
- In medieval times churches often displayed the bones and relics of their saints on Halloween (i.e. the vigil of All Saints Day) for public veneration.
- The true substance of Halloween belongs to the Catholic Church.
- Halloween is a Catholic holiday and does not have its origins in paganism, Samhain, Celtic/Druidic festivals, the occult, or Satanism. This common misconception is modern anti-Catholic propaganda, with roots going back to the Protestant Reformation, and has no basis in historical fact.
- English, Irish, and French immigrants to America brought their variety of local Catholic customs with them: Dressing up for Halloween comes from the French; Jack-o-Lanterns come from the Irish (originally carved turnips); and the English begged from door to door for "Soul Cakes," promising to pray for the departed loved ones of those who gave them these treats, the roots of trick-or-treating. These traditions converged in the American melting pot.
- When European Catholics immigrated to the predominantly Protestant America, bringing their cultural Catholic customs with them (i.e. celebrations of liturgical feasts), it was denounced as pagan (the same attempts were made regarding Christmas and Easter).
- The contemporary version of Halloween that glorifies the demonic with an emphasis on violence, horror, and sensuality is, at least in part, a result of Catholics believing the Protestant propaganda against their faith (that it is evil, rather than holy) and pulling away from a traditional and faithful celebration of this essentially religious holiday.
- It is true that Halloween has been badly corrupted and hyper-commercialized just like Christmas and Easter, but, just as that should never stop Catholics from fully celebrating the great feasts of the Church the Catholic way, neither should it stop Catholics from enjoying Halloween as a celebration of the great feast of All Saints Day.
- To avoid superstition and any negative influence of the occult, Halloween should not be honored or celebrated apart from Catholic truth (in the same way we should keep the birth of Christ at the center of Christmas, and the Resurrection of Christ at the center of Easter).
- Halloween is a day to reflect on Christ's triumph over sin, death, and Satan; to meditate on our own mortality and duties to God; to shun sin and the devil; to give honor to the saints in heaven; and to pray for the souls of the faithful departed in purgatory. And, of course, to have fun with joyful feasting and merriment. Happy Halloween!
HOW TO CELEBRATECatholics should not neglect the celebration of any of the Church's major feasts, and All Saints Day is no exception. It is a Holy Day of Obligation, meaning that Catholics are obliged to attend Mass just as if it were a Sunday.
Celebrate the feast by taking the family to Mass on All Hallow's Eve, and pray for the intercession of the saints in heaven—especially those who are your patrons. Read about the lives of the saints, hand out holy cards, have a party with saint-based activities or costumes for kids.
On All Saints Day thank the saints for what they have done for you; adorn their altars and images with flowers, venerate their relics, recite special prayers and litanies in their honor. Enjoy a special meal with loved ones.
Then, on All Souls Day, pray for the Holy Souls in Purgatory and make sacrifices on their behalf, especially those whom you have known and loved, and for those who have no one to pray for them. Visit graveyards and cemeteries to pray for the dead who can no longer pray for themselves.
Continue reading 20 Ways to Pray for the Holy Souls in Purgatory
In this way you will faithfully and joyfully celebrate Hallowmas in a manner that is pleasing to God!
MORE HALLOWEEN RESOURCESWant to read more Halloween facts? Each of the great articles below go into greater depth on the above points and offer more historical insight into the Catholic festival of Halloween:
This article has been updated and was originally published in October 2015. © The Catholic Company. All rights reserved.