On my walk to the store, I observed one child this evening with a Halloween costume – a young toddler with her mother. Of course I think many people participate in such an idea but do not know why they are doing it. Some people claim Halloween to be pagan and even worse claim it to be Satanic (which in my world might as well be the same if Our Lord Jesus Christ is out of the picture). Satan has since the beginning had it his mission to hijack anything that is of God. Much of it has to do with man’s lack of discipline. After all, disciplines keep us ordered and focused on God. So with God’s guidance through Jesus Christ Our Lord, let’s mull through the confusion.
First and foremost, if one does not believe in the saints and their prayers as well as prayers for the dead, one will not ever understand the true meaning of Halloween. We’ll look at the scriptural and theological foundation, the history of Halloween traditions, and how we should approach it today. We’ll start with an Old Testament passage 2 Maccabees 12:45-46 after Judas Maccabeus and his army had just defeated Gorgias, “[I]f he was looking to the splendid reward that is laid up for those who fall asleep in godliness, it was holy and pious thought. Therefore he made atonement for the dead, that they might be delivered from their sin”. So we see from the Jewish roots of Christianity, this has been an acceptable practice. Let’s move to the New Testament with a passage in 2 Timothy 1:16-18 where Saint Paul prays for a gentleman named Onesiphorus who appears to have already died, specifically verse 18, “May the Lord grant mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, for he often refreshed me; he was not ashamed of my chains, but when he arrived in Rome he searched for me eagerly and found me – may the Lord grant him to find mercy from the Lord on that Day – and you well know all the service he rendered at Ephesus”. The Day discussed here is Judgment Day which every soul experiences after their death. This is clearly a prayer and not language used to discuss someone who is still alive on earth. Now let’s look at the prayers of the saints with Revelation 5:8, “And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and with golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints”. Incense going back to our Jewish roots of Christianity is associated with prayer. Second thing to keep in mind is that you have to go back to chapter 4 to get a bigger picture of what is happening. This is taking place in the midst of heavenly worship. We the faithful are called saints too but in this context these are the saints who are in a glorified state. That being said, the prayers are not for themselves because they do not need prayers any longer. Thus, the prayers could only be for two groups of peoples – those on earth including the faithful (Church Militant) and those who have died but still need further purification (Church Suffering) also known as purgatory. Remember brothers and sisters, disciplines are derived from doctrine. This is the doctrine that I’ve just laid out. Now let’s look at the development of the discipline.
Halloween is a contracted English word that means All Hallows Eve or All Saints Eve or an even more accurate description would be The Vigil of All Saints. It should be noted that Christians always venerated, or given honor to those who lived their lives as part of the mystical body of Christ – the Church. Ephesians 5 gives one of the best descriptions of being part of the body of Christ. During the period of the Roman emperor Diocletian in the early 300s, so many Christians were martyred that it became virtually impossible to have separate memorials. Thus, Christians began to have common memorials. One of the earliest records is a homily from Saint John Chrysostom in 407 stating a feast honoring all Christian martyrs. The first official recognition for all martyrs and the Virgin Mary was on May 13th 609 or 610 when Saint Pope Boniface IV consecrated the Pantheon which was given by the Emperor Phocas. The Pantheon was a temple used for pagan purposes and you can see in this example here and many other examples in history of taking something pagan and baptizing it and giving it new meaning (e.g. wedding bands were originally pagan but it’s an idea baptized today that has truth of Our Beloved Lord on it now). This is important in the development of some later Halloween practices. Pope Gregory III dedicated a chapel in Saint Peter’s basilica in Rome to commemorate all saints which took place on November 1st, which explains the change from the original date of May 13th. Although originally a local celebration, Pope Gregory IV eventually commanded that All Saints be celebrated everywhere.
The October 31st celebration as referenced earlier is simply the All Saints Eve to All Saints Day. Now there’s a claim that Halloween is truly a pagan holiday from pagan people like the ancient Celts of Ireland or Britain. There was a minor festival called Samhain, but it should be noted pagan Celtic festivals frequently fell on the last day of the month. Remember the 2 Maccabees passage about praying for the dead ? An abbot named Saint Odilo of southern France added a celebration on November 2nd known as All Souls Day, which spread from France to the rest of Europe. So, you now have celebrations in place for the saints and all souls. What of the damned ? There was an Irish tradition of banging pots and pans on All Hallows Eve because of a concern that the damned would cause trouble for not being acknowledged. However, we clearly don’t do that in America. And you notice I haven’t mentioned anything about the Irish dressing up ? That’s because dressing up is a French tradition from the 14th and 15th centuries. In late medieval Europe, there was an outbreak of the bubonic plague or Black Death. Europe lost about half of its population. There was a growing concern amongst Catholics about the afterlife. There were more masses on All Souls Day but you also had people dressing up on All Souls Day in various states of life. In the British colonies of North America, it’s been alleged that Irish and French Catholics began to intermarry. However, the Irish focused more on Hell and so it made the dressing up more macabre. There is actually a popular representation known as Danse Macabre, or “dance of death” to represent this idea.
So what’s the story behind the “trick or treat” idea ? There was a penal period from the 1500’s to the 1700’s stemming back to the Protestant Reformation days. It was even a capital offense to celebrate Mass. English Catholics would sometimes resist, including one Catholic named Guy Fawkes, who attempted to blow up the Parliament in protest on November 5th, which became known as Guy Fawkes Day. People on that day would visit Catholics in the middle of the night demanding beer and cakes. There were specifically these cakes called soul cakes.In exchange for the cakes, the trick or treaters would offer them prayers. The commemoration of Guy Fawkes had been forgotten in America by the American Revolution, but the trick or treat custom kept going and eventually got moved to October 31st. The custom started being embraced by everyone.
So let’s be clear to all Americans and those around the world. Halloween is a Catholic holiday. There were other traditions added on through the years that have no theological significance whatsoever. Jesse Romero has an excellent talk and some great insight that in my opinion warrants watching. It gets into people including Satanists taking away the Catholic idea of the holiday. He also gives a few interesting stories. I’ll add the link below:
Here’s the bottom line: If you’re going to celebrate a holiday like Halloween properly, I believe one should educate themselves on the discipline before doing anything. One should not engage in anything that perverts it like dressing up in an immodest outfit. I’ve stated before and I’ll say it again: Even when you’re not fighting, Satan always is. There are Satanists every year working to counter the holiday, and some use satanic behavior but are not very conscious of it. All that being said: Are you going to walk with the rest of the world and give Satan more power or are you going to bring the fight and do what Our Beloved Lord has called you to do and properly celebrate Halloween ?