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What are the Catholic origins of Halloween?

Though it is often hijacked by the pagan, demonic, and secular, All Hallows’ Eve has a treasured place in Catholic tradition…

…but you’d never know it when walking down the street in October, seeing houses gaudily strewn with fake spiderwebs, skeletons, and repulsive cadavers. Some Christians have considered withdrawing totally from this “holiday,” since it seems like the domain of the devil.

But the proper celebration of Halloween is very much a part of Catholic tradition.

Halloween is another word for “All Hallows’ Eve”—the eve of All Saints’ Day. In the old Church calendar, the Vigil of All Saints was a liturgical event. It had its own Mass, where the priest would vest in penitential purple, the usual color for vigils. He would don white in the evening for the First Vespers of All Saints, which marked the beginning of the Church’s celebration of this great holy day.

Together, the Vigil (October 31), the Feast of All Saints (November 1), and the Commemoration of All Souls (November 2) formed a comprehensive picture of the Catholic view of the afterlife.

Then, there are the Vespers of the Dead—sometimes called “Black Vespers,” since the priest would vest in black, the color of death and mourning. These Vespers were not officially said on Halloween, but rather after Second Vespers on All Saints’ Day, looking toward All Souls’ Day. In the Catholic region of Brittany, a devotion developed of saying these Vespers on Halloween itself. It seems these Breton folk were quite solemn on Halloween and kept the importance of praying for the dead at the forefront of their Vigil doings.

In the British Isles, festive All Hallows’ Eve traditions arose that will sound familiar to you. Children would go door-to-door begging for a “soul cake” and promising in return to pray for the deceased of the giver’s family. The Halloween tradition of dressing up is also potentially connected with this custom (pictured below: an excellent Halloween/All Saints costume—St. Michael!).

Because of her Protestant leanings, Queen Elizabeth forbade the traditions associated with All Souls’ Day. But these customs escaped her anti-Catholic, anti-fun edicts and have made their way down the centuries to us today.

So let’s celebrate Halloween correctly, shall we? You and your family can learn how in The Year and Our Children: Catholic Family Celebrations for Every Season. You’ll learn the marvelous ways in which the Church has celebrated the feasts that adorn her liturgical year—and how to bring these traditions into your home. A wonderful way to live out our Catholic culture. Pick up a copy today!

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