As Halloween approaches closer, an ethical question rings through the head of many devout Catholics— Should I celebrate Halloween? I want to first explain the origin of the famous holiday, and then dive into the answer.
Many believe Halloween to be a holiday based on a wicked pagan celebration, involving animal sacrifices and strange voodoo. This idea has some truth to it, but Halloween is actually a Catholic celebration that is almost 1,300 years old. In the pre-Christian culture of Europe, many countries (namely England, Ireland, and Scotland) celebrated a Celtic harvest festival in honor of their pagan religion. According to the Celtic’s calendar, the celebration took place on, what they considered to be the first day of the new year, November 1st. This harvest was called, the festival of Samhain (the god of death). On this day, it was told that the souls of all deceased humans would return to their family’s households, and linger until the end of the feast. For the souls who died in a state of sin, it was believed that their soul was trapped inside an animal, but on this festival date, family members could help that soul by making a human sacrifice. In addition to human souls returning to the Earth, it was believed that demons, witches, and evil presences could also walk about freely. In order to scare these terrible creatures away, the Celts used fire, lit from a bonfire, to scare away these spirits. *Note: Many believe this is where the practice of lighting a jack-o-lantern came from.
Catholicism began spreading throughout Europe, and these Pagan practices were banned and viewed as heresy, to anyone who continued to practice the festival. The transition from Paganism to Catholicism was not an easy one for many of the Celts. Coincidently, the Catholic Church celebrated a feast day (of obligation) on November 1st called, “All Saints Day.” The day before the feast day was also known as, all hallow’s eve, because the word saint meant “hallow”— hence the name of the commercialized holiday, Halloween. So the transition began, the once celebration of Samhain was completely removed as more and more converts began celebrating All Saints Day. The communion of saints takes place on All Souls Day, uniting all the devout Catholics on Earth, saints in heaven, and holy souls in purgatory. On this holy day, the faithful and saints in heaven can begin praying for the souls in Purgatory.
Now that you know the origin of Halloween, what can be done concerning the ethical question of celebrating it? The celebration of this holiday, i.e. carving a pumpkin, dressing up yourself or children in a costume(s), all depends upon your personal comfort. Many Catholics dress up as beloved saints, such as Mother Teresa, Joan of Arc, or Padre Pio, etc, and then there are some who partake in more comical costumes. If you choose not to celebrate Halloween by dressing up, that is perfectly acceptable, just remember to go to Mass to celebrate the Feast of Souls. The most important part of Halloween is not the candy, or the costume you wear, but the origin of this beautiful, Christian feast.
Does Halloween have a dark past? Not at all! Halloween, as explained before, is a Catholic holiday. Was there a pagan festival celebrated before the introduction of Halloween? Yes, and this holiday was a very dark one. As Catholics, we recognize that evil is real, and this Halloween holiday stresses this belief even further.
As the Church body, it is our decision whether we decide to move forward and focus on the goodness of Halloween, or look to its evil brother, the festival of Shamain. As long as you remember what the real Christian origin of Halloween is, then you can truly understand what it means to celebrate Halloween.
"Don't worry to the point of losing your inner peace. Pray with preserverance, with faith, with calmness and serenity." -St. Padre Pio
(book) "Trick or Treat? A History of Halloween" by Lisa Morton