October 28, 2019
Every year evangelical Christians complain Halloween is a pagan celebration that will turn our children into devil worshippers. But in reality, the celebration is Catholic, with a mix of French, Irish and English history thrown in and mixed together in America.
Hallowe’en falls on October 31 because it is the eve of “All Hallows” (All Saints Day), a feast moved to November 1 by Pope Gregory in 741. In 998, the monastery of Cluny in southern France added a day of prayer for the souls in Purgatory on November 2 (All Souls Day), and the feast spread to the rest of Europe. Irish peasants wondered about the damned, so the banging of pots and pans on All Hallows Eve became customary to let the damned know they were not forgotten.
Halloween costumes derive from 14thcentury France, when half the population died from bubonic plague – the Black Death. It was common to see depictions of death – a skeletal figure – leading a parade of people from popes to paupers into the tomb. Sometimes people dressed up on All Souls Day as knights, monks, peasants, lepers, etc. and danced with a figure dressed as death, bringing those paintings to life. So the Irish had Halloween, but did not dress up; the French dressed up, but didn’t have Halloween. The two cultures intermingled in America, where the Irish focus on hell gave the French masquerades a ghoulish twist.
The English accidentally introduced “trick or treat”. During the English oppression of Catholics in the 1500s to 1700s, Catholics had no rights. A Catholic plot to blow up Parliament on November 5, 1605 was uncovered and the man guarding the gunpowder, Guy Fawkes, was arrested and hanged. On Guy Fawkes Day, celebrated by the English on November 5, bands of Protestant revelers wearing masks would bang on Catholic doors demanding beer and cakes for their celebration: trick or treat! In America this practice became unmoored from its political roots and attached to Halloween. Lamps made from turnips were part of Celtic harvest festivals, and in America pumpkins were carved and filled with candles and introduced in the 1800s.
So enjoy Halloween, and if your kids want a scary costume, consider dressing them as one of the martyrs – St. Lucy, who holds her eyes on a plate, St. Peter of Verona, a Dominican depicted with an axe stuck in his head, St. Lawrence, with the marks of the grill on which he was cooked to death are just a few grisly suggestions. Have your kids do a little research on the martyrs and they’ll have all kinds of costume ideas!