November 3, 2019 – Ruminations by Fr. Pat

This week’s article is about the liturgical practice of Halloween. There are some people, even Catholics, who think that this day is Satanic in origin and has no place in Catholic Faith. For our understanding of this holiday or even a holiday like Christmas, we must distinguish between the terms satanic and pagan. They do not mean the same. Satanic refers to the devil or things that are evil. Pagan just refers to non Judeo-Christian beliefs. Just because something is pagan doesn’t mean that it is evil.

Halloween has its roots in Celtic (Irish) pagan roots. November 1 was a traditional Celtic and druidic Fall holiday. The holiday was called Samhain (pronounced sow-win), the Celtic New year. It was a Fall festival. Celebrants believed that the barriers between the physical world and the spirit world break down during Samhain, allowing more interaction between humans and denizens of the Otherworld, including deceased loved ones. Without getting into its history, this festival did involve “spirits,” “elves,” “goblins,” etc. It was expected that ancestors might cross over during this time as well, and Celts would dress as animals and monsters so that fairies were not tempted to kidnap them. These figures, however, were not considered evil, as some would suggest. Over time “beliefs” developed from folklore, rather than fact. In fact, the hatred of Halloween may have started with the Romans, who saw the Celts as enemies and rivals. The Celts didn’t have any written history (the Romans did), so anything we have about the Celts comes mostly from a Ro-man perspective. Do you think they were going to say nice things about their enemies?

When Ireland was Christianized, many of its customs were used and transformed by the Church. This was a practice used by the Romans (so some of the Halloween associations, especially the ones concerning the dead, were of Roman origin). Look at the Solemnity of Christmas. Was Jesus born on December 25? No. That day was originally a pagan holiday, which was Christianized by the Church, in order to draw the attention away from pagan beliefs to Christian ones.

Halloween is very much the same. Pope Gregory in 835 designated November 1 as All Hallow’s day (All Saints Day). The day before was All Hallow’s Eve (Halloween). While keeping the Fall “flavor” and the practice of remembering the dead, All Saints Day remembers the Living who have died with Christ.

So, although some cults may have adopted Halloween as their favorite “holiday,” the day itself did not grow out of evil practices. It grew out of the rituals of Celts celebrating a new year, and out of Medieval prayer rituals of Europeans. And today, even many churches have Halloween parties or pumpkin carving events for the kids. After all, the day itself is only as evil as one cares to make it.

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