Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Don't Be Spooked by Hallowe'en

Once we realize the origins of Hallowe'en, we will find that this is a day to celebrate, not to frighten. In that vein, we Catholic Christians choose to dress as saints or other characters we admire, as well as poking a bit of fun at the devil. After all, his battle has already been lost; Jesus Christ the Savior won that victory when he became man and dwelt among us. He even allowed the devil to tempt him, as an illustration of the power of light over darkness.

Sometimes the eve of October 31st, as well as the days of November 1st and 2nd, are unofficially called the "Days of the Dead" - after all these are the days we pray for or remember those no longer dwelling on this earth. We celebrate all the Saints in Heaven All Saints' Day (also known as All Hallows') on the evening of October 31 and November 1st. Then, on the day after All Hallows', we remember the saved souls who are in Purgatory being purged of the temporal effects of the sins committed during their lifetime, before they can enter Heaven.

It might be good to look at these three days of Hallowe'en as follows:

  • October 31 - Hallowe'en (All Hallows Eve) is a time to recall the reality of hell and work through the best ways to avoid it. We remember that there are damned souls and vow not to join them. Many Catholics will attend Mass on the evening of this day as a fulfillment of their All Saints Day obligation. This is also the evening that many children dress up and collects sweet treats from neighbors and friends. 
  • November 1 - All Saints Day is officially a Holy Day of Obligation. We honor the Church Triumphant on this day by recalling our great saints as well as those uncanonized saints not known to us.
  • November 2 - All Souls Day, while not a Holy Day of Obligation, is when we remember to pray for the Church Suffering - those souls who are still in Purgatory. Remembering our deceased loved ones and having a Mass said for them is a Corporal Work of Mercy.

Originally, the earliest form of All Saints Day was celebrated on May 13. As it has been since the 300's, this is still the case in some Eastern Churches. Intitially, only the martyrs were commemorated, but by 741, all of the saints had been included. It wasn't until the year 844 that Pope Gregory III transferred the Feast Day to November 1st. This was the year he consecrated a chapel in St. Peter's Basilica to All Saints - this should put to rest the theory that the date of All Saints Day was fixed because of the harvest festival of the Irish pagans.

All Souls Day originated with the Bishop of Cluny, who in A.D. 1048, decreed that the Benedictines of Cluny pray for the souls in Purgatory on this day. The practice further spread until it was recommended for the entire Latin Church by Pope Sylvester II. 

In Irish popular piety, the evening before, Hallowe'en (All Hallows or "Hallows' Eve") became a day of remembering the dead who are damned.These customs spread to many parts of the world, thus initiating the popular focus of Hallowe'en as the reality of Hell. As a result, scary characters, focus on evil and how to avoid it,and the sad fate of damned souls captured the imagination.

Traditional circles find the celebration - even whether or not to celebrate it at all, to be a controversial topic. Often, we hear that Hallowe'en is a pagan holiday" - quite contrary to the meaning and origin of Hallowe'en as explained above. All Hallows' Evening, is a Catholic a holiday with roots in remembering saints, sinners, and the damned. Although some say that the holiday actually stems from Samhain, a pagan Celtic celebration, or is Satanic, this simply isn't true. It's also rather amusing that October 31 is also "Reformation Day" in Protestant circles -  recalling Luther's having nailed his 95 Theses to Wittenberg's cathedral door.

As with many Church celebration, commercialization/secularization of the holiday and popular myths proclaiming the origin is pagan, find some refusing to celebrate Hallowe'en at all, etc. Others celebrate without trepidation while though keeping their celebration Catholic and refraining from  the ugliness that has marred the day in the secular world. Hopefully, whatever your family decides, it's vital to keep the facts straight, and to refrain from judging others who decide to celebrate Hallowe'en differently or not at all. As in all instances of our lives, charity is key.

If your family would like to celebrate Hallowe'en, here's a bit of trivia and some suggestions:

  • The customs of Hallowe'en are a mixture of Catholic popular devotions, and French, Irish, and English customs all mixed together. 
  • The custom of dressing up comes from the French.
  • Carved Jack-o-lanterns, come from the Irish, who originally carved turnips. 
  • English Catholics initiated the custom of begging from door to door, which was a purer form of "trick-or-treating." Children would go door to door begging their neighbors for a "Soul Cake". In turn, they would say a prayer for those neighbors' dead saying, 
"A Soul Cake, a Soul Cake,
have mercy on all Christian souls for a soul cake!"
  • Customary foods for Hallowe'en include cider, nuts, popcorn, and apples - and are best eaten around a fire.
  •  Bobbing for apples on Hallowe'en is an old Celtic custom.
  • Dressing up as a saint can be a springboard for learning about their lives and their special graces. 
  • Using the opportunity of costumes to teach others about those who loved God so much.
  • Incorporating the wearing of costumes into a visit to a nursing hope - to bring a bit of joy to the elderly and lonely.
Saint Elizabeth, Saint Cecilia, and Snow White
If done with an eye toward faith, Hallowe'en can be an enjoyable holiday for your family. It offers an opportunity to teach children about the reality of evil and hell, the reassurance that evil was conquered by Jesus, and the hope of Heaven for those living holy lives. After all, Satan has no power over those who live in Christ. In balance, we must teach them to protect themselves from all things occult - Ouija boards, casting spells, and calling down spirits must not be attempted or tolerated. These things only invite the devil into our lives. 

Instead, remind them the power of the Holy Name of Jesus, sacramentals, and prayers such as the St. Michael Prayer. And don't forget to pray for the intercession of the saints - that those who don't know Jesus will come to know His love and mercy. This God-Man, who loved us so much that He allowed himself to suffer and die for us!

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Saint Michael the Archangel from last year.
Note: I made the Saint Elizabeth and Snow White costumes. The Saint Cecilia costume was purchased at Cracker Barrel. Saint Elizabeth will carry bread and roses in her cloak, while Saint Cecilia will carry a harp. The girls had a good time learning about the saints and we focused on Snow White's heart of service.

UPDATE: I created the following meme to share a Catholic view of Hallowe'en. Feel free to share it by following this link.