The Catholic Origins of Halloween

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By Father Augustine Thompson, O.P.

We’ve all heard the allegations: Halloween is a pagan rite dating back to some pre-Christian festival among the Celtic Druids that escaped church suppression. Even today modern pagans and witches continue to celebrate this ancient festival. If you let your kids go trick-or-treating, they will be worshiping the devil and pagan gods.

Nothing could be further from the truth. The origins of Halloween are, in fact, very Christian and rather American. Halloween falls on October 31 because of a pope, and its observances are the result of medieval Catholic piety.

It’s true that the ancient Celts of Ireland and Britain celebrated a minor festival on October 31–as they did on the last day of most other months of the year. However, Halloween falls on the last day of October because the Solemnity of All Saints, or “All Hallows,” falls on November 1. The feast in honor of all the saints in heaven used to be celebrated on May 13, but Pope Gregory III (d. 741) moved it to November 1, the dedication day of All Saints Chapel in St. Peter’s at Rome. Later, in the 840s, Pope Gregory IV commanded that All Saints be observed everywhere. And so the holy day spread to Ireland.

Saint Odilio
Saint Odilio of Cluny

The day before was the feast’s evening vigil, “All Hallows Even,” or “Hallowe’en.” In those days Halloween didn’t have any special significance for Christians or for long-dead Celtic pagans.

In 998, St. Odilo, the abbot of the powerful monastery of Cluny in southern France, added a celebration on November 2. This was a day of prayer for the souls of all the faithful departed. This feast, called All Souls Day, spread from France to the rest of Europe.

So now the Church had feasts for all those in heaven and all those in purgatory. What about those in the other place? It seems Irish Catholic peasants wondered about the unfortunate souls in hell. After all, if the souls in hell are left out when we celebrate those in heaven and purgatory, they might be unhappy enough to cause trouble. So it became customary to bang pots and pans on All Hallows Even to let the damned know they were not forgotten. Thus, in Ireland at least, all the dead came to be remembered–even if the clergy were not terribly sympathetic to Halloween and never allowed All Damned Day into the church calendar.

But that still isn’t our celebration of Halloween. Our traditions on this holiday center on dressing up in fanciful costumes, which isn’t Irish at all. Rather, this custom arose in France during the 14th and 15th centuries. Late medieval Europe was hit by repeated outbreaks of the bubonic plague–the Black Death–and it lost about half its population. It is not surprising that Catholics became more concerned about the afterlife.

A Danse Macabre

More Masses were said on All Souls Day, and artistic representations were devised to remind everyone of their own mortality. We know these representations as the “danse macabre”, or “dance of death,” which was commonly painted on the walls of cemeteries and shows the devil leading a daisy chain of people–popes, kings, ladies, knights, monks, peasants, lepers, etc.–into the tomb. Sometimes the dance was presented on All Souls Day itself as a living tableau with people dressed up in the garb of various states of life.

But the French dressed up on All Souls, not Halloween; and the Irish, who had Halloween, did not dress up. How the two became mingled probably happened first in the British colonies of North America during the 1700s, when Irish and French Catholics began to intermarry. The Irish focus on Hell gave the French masquerades an even more macabre twist.

But as every young ghoul knows, dressing up isn’t the point; the point is getting as many goodies as possible. Where on earth did “trick or treat” come in? “Treat or treat” is perhaps the oddest and most American addition to Halloween and is the unwilling contribution of English Catholics.

During the penal period of the 1500s to the 1700s in England, Catholics had no legal rights. They could not hold office and were subject to fines, jail and heavy taxes. It was a capital offense to say Mass, and hundreds of priests were martyred.

I wonder if they make a Guy Fawkes mask...
I wonder if they make a Guy Fawkes Halloween mask…

Occasionally, English Catholics resisted, sometimes foolishly. One of the most foolish acts of resistance was a plot to blow up the Protestant King James I and his Parliament with gunpowder. This was supposed to trigger a Catholic uprising against the oppressors. The ill-conceived Gunpowder Plot was foiled on November 5, 1605, when the man guarding the gunpowder, a reckless convert named Guy Fawkes, was captured and arrested. He was hanged; the plot fizzled.

November 5, Guy Fawkes Day, became a great celebration in England, and so it remains. During the penal periods, bands of revelers would put on masks and visit local Catholics in the dead of night, demanding beer and cakes for their celebration: trick or treat!

Guy Fawkes Day arrived in the American colonies with the first English settlers. But by the time of the American Revolution, old King James and Guy Fawkes had pretty much been forgotten. Trick or treat, though, was too much fun to give up, so eventually it moved to October 31, the day of the Irish-French masquerade. And in America, trick or treat wasn’t limited to Catholics.

The mixture of various immigrant traditions we know as Halloween had become a fixture in the United States by the early 1800s. To this day, it remains unknown in Europe, even in the countries from which some of the customs originated.

But what about witches? Well, they are one of the last additions. The greeting card industry added them in the late 1800s. Halloween was already “ghoulish,” so why not give witches a place on greeting cards? The Halloween card failed (although it has seen a recent resurgence in popularity), but the witches stayed.

So too, in the late 1800s, ill-informed folklorists introduced the jack-o’-lantern. They thought that Halloween was Druidic and pagan in origin. Lamps made from turnips (not pumpkins) had been part of ancient Celtic harvest festivals, so they were translated to the American Halloween celebration.

The next time someone claims that Halloween is a cruel trick to lure your children into devil worship, I suggest you tell them the real origin of All Hallows Eve and invite them to discover its Christian significance, along with the two greater and more important Catholic festivals that follow it.


Father Augustine Thompson, O.P.Father Augustine Thompson, O.P., is an associate professor of religious studies at the University of Virginia. BA, MA, The Johns Hopkins University; BA (Philosophy), MDiv, Dominican School of Philosophy & Theology; PhD, University of California, Berkeley; STM, Order of Preachers, 2007.

Reprinted from Catholic Parent magazine. Copyright 2000. All rights reserved.


Comments

73 COMMENTS

  1. Catholics invented trick-or-treating long before the Brits did! It was called going a-souling. On All Hallows, the poor would go door to door and offer prayers for those who had died in those households during the year. In return, the families would offer food to the poor, including soul cakes. There are recipes for soul cakes that have been handed down through the years, but they’re all different. Basically they’re cookies made with various spices, which have a cross on them, either carved into them or made with raisins. In other words, Bonfire Night makes fun of the Catholic tradition of going a-souling, which is the ACTUAL origin of trick-or-treating.

  2. Many Catholics question and even “celebrate” Halloween on day 31/10, in particular, our children in their schools…

    However, we need to clarify and advise them that this “celebration” is not a simple party to the fantasy!
    Stay alert / the!
    ———————————————————————————————
    Many people confuse the Halloween party, which is celebrated on the 31th of October, with a simple party to the fantasy, but actually, Halloween is a pagan party and that has nothing to Christian.

    In some countries, the kids dressing up and out in groups knocking door to door, saying, in choir, the phrase: ” trick or treat?”, But in fact they are saying “or you give me a sweet, or curse you”.

    Jesus wants us to be good and that we do not identify with the witches and with the monsters, because we are children of God.

    To be a sign of life and holiness Christians always has the opportunity to celebrate and be different. In the office new song celebrates-if the party of all the saints, especially with our children in the wearing of our holy of devotion, knowing his life and living the joy of holiness and the intercession of those who lived before us and today are In the eternal life. Celebrate the saints and not the witches!

    I believe that we should celebrate yes the day of all the saints, emphasizing the true sense of death, and the sanctity of life given to us by Jesus Christ, our Lord. http://www.opusangelorum.org/

  3. Many Catholics question and even “celebrate” Halloween on day 31/10, in particular, our children in their schools…

    However, we need to clarify and advise them that this “celebration” is not a simple party to the fantasy!
    Stay alert / the!
    ———————————————————————————————
    Many people confuse the Halloween party, which is celebrated on the 31th of October, with a simple party to the fantasy, but actually, Halloween is a pagan party and that has nothing to Christian.

    In some countries, the kids dressing up and out in groups knocking door to door, saying, in choir, the phrase: ” trick or treat?”, But in fact they are saying “or you give me a sweet, or curse you”.

    Jesus wants us to be good and that we do not identify with the witches and with the monsters, because we are children of God.

    To be a sign of life and holiness Christians always has the opportunity to celebrate and be different. In the office new song celebrates-if the party of all the saints, especially with our children in the wearing of our holy of devotion, knowing his life and living the joy of holiness and the intercession of those who lived before us and today are In the eternal life. Celebrate the saints and not the witches!

    I believe that we should celebrate yes the day of all the saints, emphasizing the true sense of death, and the sanctity of life given to us by Jesus Christ, our Lord. http://www.opusangelorum.org/

  4. Halloween IS satans day and of this world and anyone who LOVES the things of this world IS a ENEMY of Christ, the catholic church STARTED all of the holidays but GOD says NOT to follow the TRADITIONS of men, but it NO surprise because the catholics ARE A CULT, with NECROMANCER which is WITCHCRAFT, and GAY PRIESTS wearing make-up which is an abomination and IDOLATRY praying to dead saints for ONLY JESUS is ALIVE and GOD says that the ONLY way to heaven is through JESUS CHRIST NOT Mother Mary or the saints the cathoic church ALLOW the pagans into the church but they ALLOWED them to keep their HOLIDAYS as the wiccans and satanists this is their FAVORITE holiday what does that say ? IS IT HOLY ? IS witches and ghosts and making people afraid of GOD ? In Isaiah it says YOU CAN NOT TAKE WHAT IS EVIL AND MAKE IT HOLY ! PERIOD ! SO you CAN’T Christianize what was the day of satan and WHO would want to CELEBRATE the day that satanists SACRIFICE babies and animals to satan and then DRINK THEIR BLOOD ! The catholic church COMPROMISED and let them PRACTICE their evil holidays because they wanted numbers and their money is all

    According to the Satanic Calendar Halloween, October 31st is a night for Human sacrifice: One of the two most important nights of the year. Attempts are made to break the bond which is keeping the doors to the underworld closed. Blood and sexual rituals. Sexual association with demons. Animal and human sacrifice – male or female.)
    As believers, we are called to “Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil. [1 Thesalonians 5:21-22] Who can deny that virtually all of the symbols of Halloween are evil? Witches, monsters, ogres, vampires, ghosts, ghouls, goblins, devils and demons all portray evil. Christians are to “… have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them.” [Ephesians 5:11]
    Should the church be compromised by accommodating itself to the culture?
    “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” [Romans 12:2]
    “For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial?” [2 Corinthians 6:14, 15]
    The sort of practices celebrated on Halloween are what defiled the ancient nations [see Leviticus 18:24-30]. The Israelites were warned against such practices when they entered the Promised Land, “When thou art come into the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee, thou shalt not learn to do after the abominations of those nations.” [Deuteronomy 18:9]
    Let no one be found among you who sacrifices his son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead. Anyone who does these things is detestable to the LORD, and because of these detestable practices the LORD your God will drive out those nations before you. You must be blameless before the LORD your God. The nations you will dispossess listen to those who practice sorcery or divination. But as for you, the LORD your God has not permitted you to do so. [Deuteronomy 18:10-14]
    How some people can defend this kind of activity as just another innocent holiday that doesn’t harm anyone is beyond me.

    Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light, because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. (John 3:19-20)
    As satantic involvement among our youth increases, we begin to see the primary goal of such activity. According to Scripture (2 Cor. 4:4; Rev. 12:9), Satan’s goal is to deceive man by blinding him to the truth of the gospel and to receive worship for himself (Matt. 4:9; Isa. 14:12-14).
    It has become clear that the primary goal is to alter an individual’s values and turn him against himself, his beliefs, family, God and society.
    “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour.” (1 Peter 5:8)

    Halloween is the vigil of All Hallows Day or All Saints Day, an important Catholic feast. Not only is it one of the most important dates on the Catholic’s calender, it is THE most important date for the Satanists!
    Halloween marks the Celtic new year. It was the end of the growing season. It became a festival of death. On this day, the god of the Celtics was to have called up the spirits of the wicked dead who had died during the past year. At the same time, other evil spirits arose and went about the countryside harassing the people. On October 31, the Celtics expected to be harassed by ghosts, evil spirits and demons; and it was no fun and games to them. They would light bonfires to guide the spirits to their own town and to ward off evil spirits.
    The Celtics had priests called druids. On October 31, the druids went from house to house demanding certain foods, and all those who refused were cursed. The people were tormented by means of magic. As they went, the druids carried large turnips which they had hollowed out and on which they had carved demon faces as charms. Each one was believed to contain the demon spirit that personally led or guided that priest: his little god.
    Those who practiced fortune telling and divination found that this was the night that they had the most success. They called upon satan to bless their efforts. One form of divination was to put apples in a tub and bob for them. The one who first successfully came up with one without putting them in his teeth was to have good luck throughout the year. They would then peel the apples and throw the peeling over their shoulders and then quickly look around. They expected to see a vision or an apparition of the one they were to marry.
    These things happened several centuries before CHRIST. Sacrifices were made to the gods, especially the god of death – Samhain (pronounced Sah win). Sacrifices all the way from vegetable to human were offered. This went on and on, and, in some parts of the world, still goes on today.
    In the 8th century, the Pope, in an effort to get the people to quit the festival of Sam hain, invented All Saints Day (Nov. 1). This was an attempt to get the people to turn away from the horrible observance of Sam hain. All Saints Day was intended to honor the martyrs of the Roman persecutions. It did not work! It never works to Christianize a pagan holiday. The holy and the profane do not mix.
    In the Middle Ages, there was a great revival of satanic practices and witchcraft and magic – like there is today. During this time the belief developed that witches traveled on broomsticks to the black Sabbaths to worship satan on October 31. They were guided by spirits in the form of black cats. The Druids worshiped cats believing them to be reincarnated evil people.

    MODERN HALLOWEEN
    Now let’s look at the present day celebration of Halloween. Isn’t the whole theme one of darkness, death, fear, threats, destruction and evil? There are witches, broomsticks, bats, owls, ghosts, skeletons, death, and monsters. You dress up your children as demons and witches and ghouls and monsters and werewolves and send them out into the street in the darkness to reenact the Druids’ practice of demanding food from people under threat of tricks (or curses) if they don’t comply.
    You take, not a turnip, but a pumpkin and carve demon faces in it and decorate with it.
    At Halloween there will be apple bobbing, divination, fortune telling, haunted houses, candles lit and spirits called up. There will be seances and ouija boards in the name of fun and excitement. There will be sacrifices of dogs, cats, rats, chickens, goats and even humans!
    You say, “Well, we don’t take it seriously.” But the devil does and so does God. Particularly this is true when the Church which He purchased with His own precious blood builds houses of horror in its fellowship halls so that the little lambs who have been entrusted to its care can be terrified and opened up to invading spirits of fear and torment and confusion.
    How this must Grieve the Lord!
    Scriptural References:
    Hosea 4:6; Ezekiel 44:23; Deuteronomy 18:9-14; 7:25-26; James 1:27; II Corinthians 6:14; I Corinthians 10:19-23; I Thessalonians 5:21-23; Philippians 4:8.

    “HALLOWEEN, TRICK OR TREAT?
    You can call a duck a horse, cow, cat, etc., but it is still a duck. You can call what you do a “fall festival”, “alleluia party”, etc., but you are still observing halloween, even if you dress up as bible characters. Halloween is the highest satanic holy day of the year.
    On October 31st, the high priest of all witch covens are required to make a human sacrifice. God condemns witches and everything to do with them. The head of the first satanic church said, “a witch is a witch”, when referring to black and white witchcraft. All their power comes from the devil.
    People think it’s funny to scare people to “death”. II TIMOTHY 1:7 says, “For God has not given to us the spirit of fear…”. So guess who is scaring you?
    Tell your children the truth about halloween. Revelation 21:8 says liars won’t make it to heaven. Then, parents, you will be doing your job as the high priest of the family like you are suppose to be. If you open your doors to pass out tracts, you are still observing halloween. Why don’t you pass them out another time?

    Stop being worldly, Christians.”
    “For Rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft,” 1 Sam. 15:23,

    SUMMARY:
    SO WHAT IS WRONG WITH HALLOWEEN???
    It does not have even one single redeeming virtue. It is custom born out of pagan superstition. It is a demon-inspired, devil-glorifying, occult festival. It is an evening inholy unto evil, death, and divination. The Scriptures tells us to “Abstain from all appearance of evil.” [1Thess. 5:22]
    Wake up Christian! This is the night of evil and those who love the Lord Jesus Christ should have nothing to do with it.
    We are all accountable for our choices and decisions. Ignorance is no excuse. The choice is up to you. Have you been involved in this satanic holiday? Do you struggle with giving it up because “it’s just fun” and an innocent opportunity for children to dress up and collect candy? Don’t take my word for it. Let God show you what he would have you do. You might begin by praying the following:
    Father in heaven I come to you in the name of Jesus Christ to confess that I’m a sinner. I’m sorry! Please forgive me. I believe with all my heart that Jesus Christ is Your Son and that You raised Him from the dead. I believe that Jesus Christ died for my sins and that I might be saved. Each and everyday Father I turn my will and my life over to Your care, and may Your Holy Spirit lead and guide me in all the things I think , do and say. I’m Yours and You are mine. Father, please use me that I might help others come to know and love Your Son Jesus Christ. Thank You for saving me. Amen

  5. I am a pagan, (so its politics and religion that make strange bedfellows) and got a very hostile reaction on a facebook pagan site for stating that Halloween was a Christian festival. Samhain (summer’s end) is the festival that pagans should be celebrating, and that is at 8 degrees Scorpio, that’s always around the 8th of November (this year 7th Nov. in northern hemisphere)
    It would appear we agree.

  6. I do believe the Danse Macabe depicted the Angels of Death leading people to the grave, not Satan. This is significant because the Angels of Death aren’t evil; they are God’s faithful servants, executing justice on the world. They reap the souls of men, escorting saints into Heaven and casting the wicked into Hell, but in every case only executing God’s judgment.

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  9. […] According to some accounts, Irish peasants developed an “All Damned Day” on October 31 to complement the All Saints and All Souls Day. The theory is that “if the souls in hell are left out when we celebrate those in heaven and purgatory, they might be unhappy enough to cause trouble.” The Irish then banged pots and pans on October 31 to make sure those in Hell knew they were not forgotten. […]

  10. The Catholic church can lay out the facts and history and logic all day long and some people will reject it all anyway. I am Catholic and proud and happy for it. I like Halloween. It is what you make it out to be. Jesus I trust in you.

  11. […] The author has a point – the three days of All Hallow’s Eve, All Saints Day, and All Souls Day really should be looked at together. The traditions of dressing up in spooky clothes on Halloween has a long history. Fr. Augustine Thompson, O.P., a frequent commenter here, and a good friend of mine wrote what I believe is the definitive internet expose of the Catholic origins of our Halloween traditions. HERE […]

  12. First, a good collection of historical facts, unfortunately mentioned to try to justify a pagan tradition because although they are traditions and Christian holidays, following the change or get in absentia to what makes the Bible represented in the rebelliousness of those who sought to appease the damned instead of heeding what they said the church authorities. Already from these facts you can not say that is born of Catholic traditions, perhaps arguably the rebellion born to Catholic traditions, would correcto.Y know that in rebellion to God’s word is not far therefore the devil .For these traditions are not strictly Catholic origin are Catholic traditions paganized, as has been done with christmas in South America where popularly consists of gorging on food and alcoholic beverages, that is not of Christian origin, is of pagan invention from a party Christian.

  13. Contrary to the article, guy fawks was not forgotten in America. George Washington specifically forbade it. Soilders could even be punished for celebration.

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