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By Susan Hines-Brigger

Halloween and Its Christian Roots


Carving the Turnip?
The Tale of the Jack-o'-lantern
Family Time
For Teens: Ways to Continue Enjoying Halloween
For Kids: Making Your Own Jack-o'-Lantern
Resources: Want to Learn More About Halloween?

When you think of Halloween, what comes to mind? For a lot of people, Halloween has become synonymous with candy, costumes, scary stuff, witches, ghosts and pumpkins. But do you know the Christian connection to the holiday?

The true origins of Halloween lie with the ancient Celtic tribes who lived in Ireland, Scotland, Wales and Brittany. For the Celts, November 1 marked the beginning of a new year and the coming of winter. The night before the new year, they celebrated the festival of Samhain, Lord of the Dead. During this festival, Celts believed the souls of the dead�including ghosts, goblins and witches�returned to mingle with the living. In order to scare away the evil spirits, people would wear masks and light bonfires.

When the Romans conquered the Celts, they added their own touches to the Samhain festival, such as making centerpieces out of apples and nuts for Pomona, the Roman goddess of the orchards. The Romans also bobbed for apples and drank cider�traditions which may sound familiar to you. But where does the Christian aspect of the holiday come into play? In 835, Pope Gregory IV moved the celebration for all the martyrs (later all saints) from May 13 to November 1. The night before became known as All Hallow�s Even or �holy evening.� Eventually the name was shortened to the current Halloween. On November 2, the Church celebrates All Souls Day.

The purpose of these feasts is to remember those who have died, whether they are officially recognized by the Church as saints or not. It is a celebration of the �communion of saints,� which reminds us that the Church is not bound by space or time.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church says that through the communion of saints �a perennial link of charity exists between the faithful who have already reached their heavenly home, those who are expiating their sins in purgatory and those who are still pilgrims on earth. Between them there is, too, an abundant exchange of all good things� (#1475).

Carving the Turnip?

Many of the customs we now associate with Halloween are also derived from ancient celebrations.

For example, the current custom of going door-to-door to collect treats actually started in Ireland hundreds of years ago. Groups of farmers would go door-to-door collecting food and materials for a village feast and bonfire. Those who gave were promised prosperity; those who did not received threats of bad luck. When an influx of Irish Catholic immigrants came to the United States in the 1800s, the custom of trick-or-treating came with them.

Does your family carve a pumpkin to place on your porch for Halloween? If so, then you can once again thank the Irish for the tradition. Actually, the custom began with a turnip. People would hollow out the turnips and place lighted candles inside to scare off the evil spirits. When the Irish came to America, they discovered the pumpkin as a larger substitute for the turnip. And so, we now carve pumpkins instead of turnips for Halloween.

The Tale of the Jack-o'-lantern

So now you know why we carve pumpkins instead of turnips, but why do we call them jack-o�-lanterns? The name actually comes from the legend of an Irishman named Jack who was forced to roam the earth with only a burning coal inside a pumpkin to light his way because he had never performed a single selfless act throughout his life. Read the whole story behind the custom.

Even though Halloween may seem like a very secular holiday, and in many ways it has become so, there are distinctly Christian aspects to the holiday that you and your family can celebrate. Happy Halloween!

Next Month: The Importance of Saying Thanks

Family Time

Although Halloween has become mostly a secular holiday, remind your family of its Christian roots. Talk about ways that you can celebrate both the secular and Christian aspects of the holiday. One way might be through the costumes that your children choose. Talk about Halloween when you were young. Did you have a favorite costume or custom that your family celebrated?

Another idea is to �Trick or Treat for a charity such as the local foodbank. Have information in case people ask about the organization you are collecting for.

How else can your family celebrate the Christian aspects of this holiday? If you have an idea, I�d love to hear about it. E-mail me at Suggestions will be posted online.

For Teens: Ways to Continue Enjoying Halloween

Most people think of Halloween as a holiday for younger children, but there�s still a lot that you can do to celebrate. For instance, you could decorate your house, or you and your friends could get together and plan a haunted house for your siblings and their friends or neighborhood kids. Or you could host your own Halloween party. Check with your parish youth group to see if they have any special events planned for Halloween.

You could help your brother or sister or a younger child make a costume. Then you could escort him or her around to different houses. As an expert, you should know all the best and safest places to visit. Or offer to stay home and pass out treats.

You may not be dressing up and collecting candy yourself anymore, but that doesn�t mean you can�t still enjoy Halloween.

For Kids: Making Your Own Jack-o'-Lantern

After finding the story of the jack-o�-lantern in a book or on the Web, make your own. You will need the following:

  • Orange, black and green construction paper or felt
  • Glue
  • Scissors (Have your parents help you cut out the pieces if you aren�t allowed to use scissors by yourself.)
  • Markers

After cutting out and putting together your jack-o�-lantern, decorate it and hang it up for all to see.


Resources: Want to Learn More About Halloween?

For more information on the Christian connections with Halloween, or to send a Halloween e-Greeting, visit our Halloween feature.

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