Halloween, celebrated in various Western countries, and with particular emphasis in America, originated with the Christian feast of All Saints, or All Halos. The old English expression, All Hallows’ Eve, eventually evolved into Halloween.
The feast of All Saints is an ancient feast in the Catholic Church dating back to the time of the first martyrs of the Roman Empire. The first Christians greatly venerated those who, refusing to offer incense to the pagan deities of the time, heroically upheld their belief in Christ to the point of shedding their blood.
As martyrdoms increased, local dioceses established a common feast day ensuring that all martyrs were properly honored. Pope Gregory III who reigned from 731 to 741 instituted the present feast of All Saints on November I, and consecrated a chapel in honor of all martyrs in St. Peter’s Basilica.
At first the feast of All Saints was celebrated locally but Pope Gregory IV (827-844) extended the celebration to the whole church. The feast also honors all those canonized saints who did not shed blood for their Faith, and all holy souls who died in the Lord–in short, all saints known and unknown.
Hallow’s Eve or the vigil of the feast of All Saints is as ancient as the feast of All Saints, and contrary to what some believe, did not have pagan origins.
Hallow’s Eve high-jacked
Nevertheless, the feast has, undoubtedly, been paganized and demonized. Halloween, as we know it today, increasingly promotes “horns” over “halos".
Not only have harvest pumpkins and Casper ghosts evolved into ghastly ghouls, but the demonic is no longer even masked. Driving down St. Charles Avenue in New Orleans a few days ago, I was taken aback by the horrific displays on the front lawns of the beautiful mansions. One house had a ten foot luciferian demon complete with glaring eyes, menacing claws, fangs and horns blocking the path up to the front door. Flanking this central demon were two others just as huge and hideous.
I’m always reminded of a program on TV years ago in which a practicing witch was interviewed. She said that if people only knew what sort of spirits they attract with such displays, they would not put them up.
Reclaiming the “Halos”
On the other hand, a new practice is slowly rising, true to the original celebration of All Hollows’ Eve.
Church groups and groups of parents promote “saints parties” in which the children dress as saints and put on skits and games such as “guess which saint I am”. The children either read or relate a short bio of the saint they represent, and a prize goes to the one who first guesses the saint’s name.
The town of Loretto, PA puts on a yearly Candlelight Saints Tour that is a must see. This year, for two days on October 25 and 26, starting at 6PM, visitors were treated to several skits representing the lives of the saints at several stations throughout the grounds of the historic Basilica of St. Michael.
Marie Kopp, a resident of the area who represented St. Maryanne Cope a newly canonized Australian saint, said the tours last about an hour and a half each and go until 11:30pm. Among the saints represented this year were St. Isaac Jogues, St. Frances Cabrini, St. Catherine Drexel, and St. Elizabeth Seton.
“I grew up going to saints parties,” said Marie, “we played games, rode hay-rides, collected candy and had as much fun as in any other Halloween party.”
A growing movement, saints’ parties, parades and candlelight tours aim to celebrate light over darkness and to reclaim the halo in Halloween.
References: Catholic Encyclopedia Online, Catholic Online, Marie Kopp, Loretto, PA