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 Hallow's Eveworshippers.

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.

Albrecht DurerAs 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

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11 Responses to “All Hallows Eve”

  1. Carlin Walsh Says:

    Brilliant!
    I had no idea about Halloween and its roots, thanks for information Seth!

  2. Great Info….thanks Seth

  3. +JMJ+

    I heard a similar “report” from a radio show on EWTN. Unfortunately, yours had more (mis)information. All Hallow’s was never the same as “All Saints Day”, nor “All Souls” Day. Just as we have Catholics that do not believe everything the Church teaches, their heresies to not grow like fine wine. A pagan tradition is still a pagan tradition — loaded with heresies and worse.

    It is true that there are historians that try to give validation to “All Hallow’s Eve” practically being the original “All Saints Eve/Day”, by making the comparison of the old English name, “ealra hálȝena mæssedæȝ” for All Saints Day sounding (allegedly) “similar” to All Hallow’s Eve. Whatever someone thinks sounds similar phoenetically is subjective, however, what is not subjective is the fact that a celebration that is essentially entirely pagan is truly Catholic in origin. What is true about our faith does not evolve. One can try to evade the matter by saying that Halloween is primarily a celebration, and in that sense a type of devotion, and not a matter of doctrine, however, if any devotion or even secular celebration celebrates something that is contrary to doctrine, it must be avoided for two reasons: scandal to others, and illiciting lukewarmness to our own faith (which is given to us by God).

    Where is All Hallow’s Eve against the doctrine? There are two ways of answering this: 1.) By it’s origin and 2.) How it is celebrated today.

    1.) All Hallow’s Eve — Originally a pagan festival celebrated both by pagans and Catholics who were in doctrinal error, therefore engaging in a celebration usually for superstitious reasons, sometimes only as a joke (making light of superstitious practice).
    The practice of superstition is against the 1st Commandment, and quite serious and has gravity. Making light of it is only venial, but still an offense to God. All Hallow’s Eve encouraged the practice of praying for the dead that were ‘bad spirits’, or in other words, damned. The Church NEVER encourages that we purposely pray for the damned, because it is impossible for them to gain any merit at that point. In God’s mercy and justice, He doesn’t permit merit at that point (think of the rich man who asked the angel to have Lazarus, the begger, dip his finger in water to cool off his tongue). We are to hope and pray for ALL souls, hoping that they may not have been damned, that God will apply His mercy to them through our intercession on their behalf. The special day for that, by the way, was NEVER All Saints but All Souls Day.

    2.) Halloween today is all about dressing up in a fun costume, and celebrating scary things and it’s meant to be all in fun. How bad can that be? Free candy, after all, and for adults, an excuse to dress up AND have a party! Well, it is a bad thing to make light of things such as death, the devil and evils whether those evils are in this life or the next. It is precisely when adults make light of these things, and encourage children to do the same, that they (albeit usually inadvertantly) teach that these things aren’t that big a deal.

    Death is often scary, and there is a good reason for that spiritually. It’s never cool to make light of it, even for the excuse of a celebration.

    • sjdemoor85 Says:

      Thank you for the comment. I believe my sources to be more accurate than you think. Unless you are a historian scholar yourself, I find it hard to argue against the websites that I referenced to compose this post, most especially newadvent.org. Perhaps you no better ones that I could go to in order to fix the errors. If you are more interested in this topic, I would look into newadvent.org, unless you think they are in error to? Let me know. Blessings

      • Historical correctness was not something I was debating. Theological correctness is what I am suggesting you consider. Just because Catholics celebrated it, it does not make it a “Catholic” celebration.

      • I am very confused. First of all, Halloween does have holy ‘roots,’ in the loosest sense of the word ‘roots,’ why? Because from the sources that I have read, it appears that Samhain was moved from November 1st, to October 31st, because the Pope purposely placed All-Saints Day on November 1st, so as to flush out the pagan ritual. Therefore, the traditional Samhain holiday was forced to move to All-Hallows-Eve. I believe this historical fact would allow me to use the phrase holy ‘roots’ in describing Halloween, simply because a specific Catholic feast day affected its evolution. And I believe it is important that people know that Halloween in the 21st century today started pagan, was affected by the Church, and then went under complete transformation as the Irish brought it to America.

        Second, I never said Halloween is a Catholic celebration. I said ‘All Saints Day’ bumped Samhain up a day, to the ‘eve,’ by the Pope.

        Lastly, there is virtue in Halloween, if sought out with Christ’s love. My father organizes a canned good drive every year in our town at halloween. The church kids flyer the entire town a week prior asking for canned goods, then on Halloween, the kids trick-or-treat for canned goods rather than candy; which of course is then given to local Christian mission for the poor. One can find or better yet create virtue out of any situation, no matter how pagan its roots. Blessings

      • In a small blurb about Halloween, New Advent says that Urban IV promoted this day:
        ‘Celebrated on the first of November. Instituted to honour all the saints, known and unknown, and, according to Urban IV, to supply any deficiencies in the faithful’s celebration of saints’ feasts during the year”

        This is very misleading, to say the least. Urban IV never promoted Halloween. New Advent is making the mistake of suggesting that Urban IV didn’t know the differnce between the pagan celebration and the holy day, which had special instructions in the liturgy of the Mass for that holy day. All Saints was NEVER synonymous with All Hallows’ Day in practice (and it is debated even if it was in name by historians). All Hallow’s, by your very admission, was about divination (against the 1st Commandment), evil, and death itself.

        It was more localized celebration in Rome (All Saints Day, I mean) in 609, and quickly grew in popularity. Eventually it was celebrated by the universal Church and was moved to November 1, to counter the misguided Catholics who were more influence by paganism (in Ireland) and superstitions that came with paganism.

        Ironically, the early origins of All Saints Day was by Pope Boniface IV and Pope Gregory VII in order to recall the triumph of Christ over the false pagan deities (and the accompanying superstitions).

        Funny, today many Catholics make more of a deal over Halloween than All Saints Day.

  4. “Even the witch hunting holiday of Halloween has holy roots, imagine what the others may hold?”

    Something that is holy is set apart by virtue. There is no virtue in Halloween as it is celebrated today, nor are its roots “holy”.

  5. I am not a historian scholar, but I think New Advent’s saying that Urban IV promoted Halloween is a stretch by them.

    I don’t normally do my historical research online, so I can’t recommend websites for this, but I would be happy to recommend some books!

    But here are some bits of what I learned from books, re-iterated online:
    http://www.catholic.org/international/international_story.php?id=34746 (notice long quote by our present Holy Father)

  6. Great post. I love hearing about the origins of many things in our world today. I was talking to my children about the origins of Halloween last Halloween, but I didn’t know nearly as much as you have here. Very informative and enjoyable read.

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