Is Halloween a Catholic Tradition?
Every year, a debate arises amongst Christians about whether Halloween is a Catholic tradition or simply a purely secular holiday. Many claim that it has a pagan origin or that it is a satanic holiday, while others say that it is merely a celebration of the supernatural.
What is the true history of Halloween?
Most of the beliefs and practices that are commonly associated with Halloween have developed over the past 500 years. They are not the result of ancient pagan traditions, nor do they have any connection to Druidic festivals, Samhain, the occult, or Satanism.
Rather, the traditions are the results of European immigrants who brought their cultural Catholic customs with them when they moved to America. Since America was predominantly-Protestant, these customs were denounced as pagan.
The Catholic Roots of Halloween
The Feast of All Saints Day, or All Hallows Eve, was originally a local celebration in Rome that Pope Gregory III expanded to a worldwide feast over a thousand years ago. That’s when the term “Halloween” came into use to describe a vigil for All Saints.
All Saints is one of the most important feast days in the Catholic Church, and its eve is the day on which the Christian community celebrates the holy souls who are in heaven. It’s a time of reflection on all that has gone before and a reminder to look forward to the future with hope.
It is also a time to honor the holy souls who are in purgatory. On All Saints Day, we remember the dead by visiting the graves of loved ones. At a cemetery, relatives usually whitewash and clean the tombstones, decorate them with flowers and candles, and pray for the souls who rest there.
During the 1500s, people in Ireland dressed up for Halloween and went door to door asking for food and gifts that were said to be “soul cakes.” This led to trick-or-treating, where children would go house to house in costume begging for treats.
When English and Irish Catholics immigrated to the United States, they brought their own versions of these customs with them. They changed the carved turnip into pumpkins and the begging to trick-or-treating, but kept the Celtic roots that accompanied them.
They also made costumes out of old clothing and carved scary faces into pumpkins, which became jack-o’-lanterns. In addition, they added a tradition of mumming or guising, where children would go door to door singing and chanting in return for food.
This mumming and guising was not intended to scare or be evil, but was a way of expressing respect for the departed. During the 1500s, people in rural Ireland would be out in the dark at night, so this practice was a helpful way of protecting themselves from the evil spirits that they saw in the world around them.
As with other holidays, the anti-Catholic sentiment of the Protestant Reformation in Europe prompted some Catholics to try and suppress certain holidays that they felt lacked purely scriptural or pre-Christian origins. This often led to the suppression of the distinctly Catholic nature of these holidays, which in some cases meant that they were lost entirely.