Catholics and Halloween: a good or bad mix? Is this a pagan holiday?
Here are the facts of the matter.
- The true substance of Halloween belongs to the Catholic Church.
- Halloween is a derivative of All Hallow's Eve. It is the vigil of All Saints (All Hallows) Day. All Saints Day is a Holy Day of Obligation, and thus a major feast on the Catholic Church's liturgical calendar.
- Halloween (October 31st) is indeed connected with All Saints Day (November 1st) and All Souls Day (November 2nd). These three days taken together are the "Days of the Dead," a triduum of feasts also called Allhallowtide, Hallowtide, or Hallowmas ("Hallow" means to honor as holy).
- Halloween is, therefore, the first day of Allhallowtide, the time of year when the living (i.e. the Church Militant) honor all the dead in Christ: the saints in heaven (i.e. the Church Triumphant) as well as all the holy souls detained in purgatory on their way to heaven (i.e. the Church Suffering). It is a beautiful celebration of the Communion of Saints!
- Catholics historically believed that on these "Days of the Dead," their annual feast, the veil between heaven, hell, and purgatory is the thinnest.
- Halloween begins the celebration of these Christian holy days to remind the Faithful of the reality of heaven and hell; the saints and the damned; demons and angels; and the holy souls suffering in purgatory.
- In the year 844 A.D. Pope Gregory III transferred the Feast of All Saints (which particularly honored the unknown martyrs and "hidden" saints whom we do not know by name) from its former day of May 13th to November 1st to coincide with the foundation of a chapel in St. Peter's Basilica which he dedicated to all the saints in heaven. His successor, Pope Gregory IV, extended the feast of the dedication to the universal Church.
- Evening vigils with pious celebrations on the day before a major feast or solemnity were customary in historical Catholic Europe; the rhythms of their lives and culture moved with the liturgical calendar.
- In medieval times, churches often displayed the bones and relics of their saints on Halloween (i.e. the vigil of All Saints Day) for public veneration.
- Halloween is a Catholic holiday and does not have origins in paganism, Samhain, Celtic/Druidic festivals, the occult, or Satanism. This common misconception is modern anti-Catholic propaganda, with roots going back to the Protestant Reformation, and has no basis in historical fact.
- English, Irish, and French immigrants brought to America their variety of local Catholic customs: dressing up for Halloween comes from the French; Jack-o-Lanterns come from the Irish (they were originally carved turnips); the English begged from door to door for "Soul Cakes," promising to pray for the departed loved ones of those who gave them these treats, thus the roots of trick-or-treating. These traditions converged in the big American melting pot.
- When European Catholics immigrated to the predominantly Protestant America, bringing their cultural Catholic customs (i.e. celebrations of liturgical feasts) with them it was denounced as pagan (the same attempts were made regarding Christmas and Easter, but they survived these attempts).
- The contemporary version of Halloween that glorifies the demonic with emphasis on violence, horror, and sensuality is, at least in part, a result of Catholics believing the propaganda against aspects of their faith (that it is evil, rather than holy) and pulling away from a traditional and faithful celebration of this essentially religious holiday. It was left to be hijacked by secular culture.
- It is true that Halloween has been badly corrupted and hyper-commercialized just like Christmas and Easter. However, just as that should never stop Catholics from fully celebrating the great feasts of the Church the Catholic way, neither should it stop Catholics from enjoying Halloween as a vigil celebration of the great feast of All Saints Day.
- To avoid superstition and negative influence of the occult, Halloween should not be honored or celebrated apart from Catholic truth. (In the same way, we should keep the birth of Christ at the center of Christmas, and the Resurrection of Christ at the center of Easter).
- Halloween is a day to reflect on Christ's triumph over sin, death, and Satan; to meditate on our own mortality and duties to God; to shun sin and the devil; to give honor to the saints in heaven; and to pray for the souls of the faithful departed in purgatory. And, of course, to have fun with joyful feasting and merriment.
How to Celebrate
Catholics should not neglect the celebration of any of the Church's major feasts. All Saints Day is no exception. It is a Holy Day of Obligation, meaning that Catholics are obliged to attend Mass just as though it were a Sunday.
Celebrate this feast by taking the family to Mass on All Hallow's Eve. Pray for the intercession of the saints in heaven—especially those who are your patrons. Read about the lives of the saints, give out holy cards, have a party with saint-based activities or costumes for kids.
On All Saints Day, thank the saints for what they have done for you; adorn their altars and images with flowers, venerate their relics, recite special prayers and litanies in their honor. Enjoy a special meal with loved ones.
Then, on All Souls Day, pray for the Holy Souls in Purgatory and make sacrifices on their behalf, especially those whom you have known and loved, and for those who have no one to pray for them. Visit graveyards and cemeteries to pray for the dead who can no longer pray for themselves. There is an indulgence for those who visit a cemetery and offer certain prayers on this day.
Further reading: 20 Ways to Pray for the Holy Souls in Purgatory
In this way you can faithfully and joyfully celebrate Hallowmas in a manner that is pleasing to God!
More Halloween Resources
Want to read more Halloween facts? Each of the great articles below go into greater depth on the above points and offer more historical insight into the Catholic festival of Halloween:
This article has been updated. It was originally published in October 2015. © The Catholic Company. All rights reserved.