All Hallows Eve
Prior to commercial America’s takeover of the Halloween holiday (i.e. Holy Day), ‘All Hallow’s Eve’ and ‘All Hallow’s Day’ served a holier purpose for pagans and catholics alike. Set aside the Gobstoppers and Snickers for just one minute, and return to the cold, dark coast of Ireland, where this ancient celebration all began in the hands of pagan worshippers.
This holiday, or holy day, dates back to before Jesus Christ, and it all started as a Celtic attempt to thwart off the inevitable arrival of winter, and death of the land. One day a year the farmers of Celtic (and Gaul – France) background believed that the season of life met the season of death. This annual event was marked by the belief in the rising of malevolent spirits from graveyards. The day was called Samhain (saahwin), which meant the summer’s end. With so many spirits in their midst, high ranking civilians would speak with authority to the commoners in foretelling whether or not their village would survive the winter. At the same time, common folk would dress in animal skin disguises and light bonfires in an attempt to confuse and evade the evil spirits.
As time went on, Pope Gregory III, in the 8th c. AD, saw the opportunity to place a feast day on November 1st, honoring all the Saints. Although the liturgical year celebrates many Saints, there are hundreds of others that do not fit in to formal liturgy, hence ‘All Hallows Day’ was born. An example would be the Emperor Diocletian’s persecution in the early 4th century AD. This cleansing of Christians killed so many across the Roman Empire that their martyrdom’s (be a witness) would no longer fit within the liturgical year. Therefore, a joint commemoration emerges.
What must be noted is that Gregory III did not create ‘All Hallows (Saints) Day.’ The Church had celebrated this feast for centuries. Rather he saw it fitting to bump it up from May 13th, to the day of the Celtic Samhain, November 1st. Across Europe, moving ‘All Saints Day’ was of no great concern to those who celebrated Samhain, so long as they could still have their fun. To alleviate that desire for celebration, Samhain cohorts simply moved the day celebration to an eve, or ‘All Hallow’s Eve,’ October 31st. From here the leap to modern day Halloween is quite simple.
However, Halloween America did not come over with our Puritan ancestors, but rather with the potato famine of the 19th century. As the Irish poured into Ellis Island to escape from famine, they brought with them traditions of ‘All Hallows Eve.’ However, bomb fires became jack-o-lanterns, animal skin disguises became costumes, and souling—-when the poor went house to house to pray for the family’s dead in exchange for a small cake—-became trick-or-treating.
So next time a goblin or vampire questions the roots of All Hallow’s Eve at your door, educate them on the pagan, martyr, and Christian roots, but not commercial America.
WC: catholic.org, history.com, newadvent.org