The Holy Catholic Church has been accused of copying a pagan Gaelic festival for the dead named Samhain in connection to the Christian annual observance of Halloween. However, how did Halloween come in existence?
First, the term Halloween or Hallowe’en dates to about AD 1745 and is indeed of Christian origin. The term literally means hallowed evening or holy evening, from a Scottish term for All Hallows’ Eve (i.e. the evening before All Hallows’ Day). In Scotland, the word “eve” is even, and this is contracted to e’en oreen. Over time, (All) Hallow(s) E(v)en evolved into Halloween.
To understand deeply the real meaning of Halloween, bear in mind that it is very customary in the Christian faith that vigils or nocturns are held on the eve of a major feast days or solemnities, which is being observed by remaining awake—”watchful”—as a devotional exercise or rituak observance on the night before the holy day. This practice dates back as early as the beginning of Christianity including its liturgical service composed of readings, singing of psalms, and various prayers followed by the Eucharistic service. In traditional Christianity, the celebration of liturgical feasts begins on the evening before the holy day because the Early Church continued the Jewish practice of beginning the day at sunset rather than midnight. NOTE that in ecclesiastical usage, the term “morning” means that the observance begins on the evening before.
That is why, when Pope Gregory III (AD 731-741) fixed the feast day to honor the saints of the Church on November 1st in relation to the consecration anniversary of a chapel dedicated to all saints on the same date at St. Peter’s Basilica in the City of Vatican, the eve (even) before that is to be observed with great reverence as a preparation for the holy day of all saints (hallowed). Thus, the vigil is called All Hollowed Even, which was shortened to Halloween, actually means All Saints’ Eve.
The vigil of the Feast (the eve) has grown up in the English speaking countries as a festival in itself, the Halloween. Various customs, then, have developed related to this practice. In the Middle Ages, poor people in the community begged for soul cakes, and upon receiving these doughnuts, they would agree to pray for departed souls and was eventually taken by children who would visit houses in the neighborhood and be given food or money. This is the root of the modern day “trick-or-treat.” The custom of masks and costumes was developed to mock and confuse the evil spirits by dressing as one of their own. In addition to these, jack-o’-lantern, an ancient Celtic lamps made from turnips used for the harvest festival, was then added by the ill-informed folklorists who thought that Halloween is a druidic and paganic in origin.
Nevertheless, Halloween must be held in a most holy way since it is a sacred vigil in preparation for the solemnity of all Saints. The Holy Catholic Church did not teach the observance of Halloween with fanciful costumes, jack-o-lantern, witchery, wandering ghosts, etc. These customs have their own non-Catholic origin which was only associated to the Christian feasts by those ignorant of the Catholic faith and, with the course of time, influenced by commercialization.
The Church, however, suggests to pray the Holy Rosary for the souls in Purgatory on the hallows’ eve as a preparation for the celebration of the Solemnity of All Saints and All Souls’ Day. It is also recommended to pray the Liturgy of the Hours or read the Gospel Readings of the day and observe a profound period of silent meditation. Furthermore, the Church also encourages the Catholic parents to have their children dress up like saints instead of wearing scary masks or fancy costumes.
May God’s holy saints, who dedicated their lives to advance the cause of Christ and His Church, be honored; and the souls of the faithful departed be remembered and prayed for.