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).
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
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.
Next Month: The Importance of Saying Thanks