Halloween and All Saint’s Day

It isn’t always easy to tell Christian and pagan holidays apart.  The Bible doesn’t tell us when Jesus was born, but we chose to celebrate his birth in late December in part because that is when the surrounding culture celebrated the rebirth of the sun after the winter solstice.  In English, the word we use for our most important holiday, Resurrection Day, is Easter, a word of Germanic origin likely related to a pagan goddess of the dawn (hence “east”).  Languages like French and Italian use more Christian – in fact, Jewish – language.  Pâques or Pasqua are from the Hebrew term for Passover (Pesach).

Unlike Christmas, whose pagan date was piggy-backed by Christians, Halloween was a matter of pagans (or, at first, at least Christians acting like pagans!) piggy-backing a Christian holiday.  Halloween, All Hallow’s Eve, happens the eve before All Hallow’s Day, or All Saint’s Day.  On November 1st, Christians celebrate the lives of all those holy Christians who have gone before us, who interecede for us and give us an example of how to be Christ-like in the world.  On November 2nd, All Soul’s Day, we pray for all who have gone before us and who are experiencing that purification of love that will make heaven truly heaven.

There is nothing wrong with dressing our kids up in costumes and having a bit of fun with our neighbours, whether or not they are Christians.  In fact, the giving away of food is a great Christian practice!  But Christians should be careful.  Halloween can often be the occasion for more than just harmless fun.  Damaging property or otherwise celebrating evil and giving ourselves over to it are not acceptable on this night any more than the rest of the year.  We can even look out for greed and gluttony by teaching our kids to share their Halloween haul and ration it out over time.  We can also be careful about the costumes we choose.  Do they celebrate evil in any way?  My wife has noticed how difficult it has become to buy a costume for a woman that is not oversexualized.  A quick google search for women’s halloween costumes is eye-opening.  Sometimes even little girl’s costumes cross the line.  Other things to watch for include the glorification of violence, a casual disregard for human life, and the trivialization of the demonic.

But, aside from being careful about how we participate in Halloween activities, there is one other thing Christians can and should do.  They should celebrate All Saint’s Day and All Soul’s Day with renewed appreciation.  We can learn so much from the saints.  Why not pick a biography of some saint to read in the month of November?  And we should pray for those who have gone before us.  It is an act of love and, like all acts of love, it brings both the giver and the receiver closer to God.


Brett Salkeld is a doctoral student in theology at Regis College in Toronto. He is a father of three (so far) and husband of one.

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  • brian Volck

    Brett:

    Thanks for this. As for choosing a date for the Nativity, the 200-plus year old theory that December 25 was an attempt to “piggy back” on a pagan festival is not impossible but it is at least problematic. See, for example, this discussion from an admittedly traditionalist source:

    http://touchstonemag.com/archives/article.php?id=16-10-012-v

    • brettsalkeld

      Interesting. Thanks for sharing.

  • markdefrancisis

    A Toronto Oratorian on the right?

    • brettsalkeld

      Maybe Philip Neri himself!

  • markdefrancisis

    This is the saint of gentleness and kindness….

  • Peter Paul Fuchs

    The picture reminds me of a picture from a great book on Spanish Colonial Art. Apparently there was a very strong fashion trend in Viceregal Lima to dress little children as friars. And the drawing was very entertaining, a little kid of of 3 or 4 dressed up very stylishly to look like a Franciscan! I think it was in one of Gauvin Bailey’s books. You see, there is nothing new under the sun.

  • brian martin

    Speaking of costumes….
    I attended a training on treating Trauma and PTSD in Fargo ND yesterday, (Halloween) and while sitting in the conference room I noticed someone dressed in a brown habit. My first assumption was that someone was in a costume because it was Halloween, and being a convert and somewhat unfamiliar with particular Religious Orders, and unaware of any orders of monks locally other than the Benedictines, I approached him to comment on his costume. He turned around and the first words out of my mouth were “That’s not a costume, is it..”
    I had the pleasure of meeting Fr. Joseph Christensen, who is a member of Third Order Franciscans of Mary Immaculate, and he is starting a new religious community in Warsaw ND (Diocese of Fargo) Of course, i was quite embarrassed about my faux pas, but he was gracious in his explanation of who he was etc.

  • Kurt

    I had not heard of that new Order (actually, a “Private Association” seeking to become an Order). They have an interesting history.

    http://www.ofmi.net/history.html

    I note in describing themselves, they state “Any young man who has an evident difficulty with his sexual identity-as expressed, for example, in any unmanly mannerisms, …should not pursue a vocation to our community; he would not be happy.”

    I find this refreshing. There seem to be a number of well-known Catholics communicators who really need to “butch it up” given their widespread appearances in defense of the faith and Catholic principles. I’m glad someone is speaking to this.

    • brettsalkeld

      Let’s not let this thread devolve.