Top Ten Ways to Have a Catholic Halloween

This time of year introduces several debates. Among conservative Protestants it’s “Halloween or no Halloween?” which sometimes becomes “Halloween vs. Reformation Day,” the latter being the celebration of the Martin Luther’s posting of the 95 Theses on Oct 31. Even some Catholics are concerned that Halloween has become “evil.” Well, here are ten ways to keep good ol’ Halloween fun and sacred.

10. Don’t call it “Satan’s Holiday”!
There are many Christians who have written off Halloween as some sort of diabolical black mass. It’s the vigil of a Christian holy day: All Hallows’ Eve or All Saints Eve. Has it been corrupted by our culture and consumer market? You bet. However, Christmas has also been derailed by the culture. Does that mean that we’re going hand over Christmas? No way! Same goes for Halloween. The Church does not surrender what rightfully belongs to her – she wins it back!

9. Don’t feel that you have to opt for an “Halloween alternative”.
Many churches (particularly Protestant ones) are now how hosting “Fall Festivals” (or worse, “Reformation Day”). I’ve been to several and they are particularly good if you have toddlers who otherwise wouldn’t enjoying walking around the neighborhood “trick or treating”. Unless you have seriously hesitations about your neighborhood, why not join your neighbors? It could be a great opportunity to get to know them and spark up some relationships. I’ve gotten to know some neighborhood dads as we stand out on the curb and watch our kids go up and the ring the door bells of every house on the street.

8. Be safe.
Check all the candy. Have the kids wear glow sticks. Dress warm. Stick together.

7. Be hospitable – Why not host the neighborhood party?
Christians are supposed to be hospitable, right? Why not host a Trick or Treating after party at your house with hot chocolate and coffee for the adults. Open up your house or back yard for games. Remember bobbing for apples?

6. Don’t be turned off by the ghoulish-ness of Halloween.
Every great Catholic cathedral has gargoyles carved into its stone work. Illuminated manuscripts are also full of ghouls in the margins. Catholics are into this kind of stuff. Why? Because Christ has conquered death and the devil. After Christ, death has lost its sting. Also, All Saints day is followed by All Souls day so it’s okay to be a little macabre. (By the way the word “macabre” comes from Maccabees – those two books in the Catholic Bible that Protestants threw out.) And if you live in an Hispanic area like I do, you’ve got the whole Dia de Muertos to play up.

5. Have fun, don’t force converts.
Look, nobody likes to get a religious tract in their candy sack. Don’t pass out religious literature. Give out big handfuls of candy and the extra large candy bars, if you can. In the long run, you will make more converts with your charity. After all, you’ll be known as “the house that always gives out good candy”.

4. Have a bonfire!
We Catholics used to specialize in bonfires. If you have the land and it’s legal, stoke up a blaze. If you’re kids are older why not set out a bunch of glowing jack-o-lanterns and roast marshmallows over a blazing-hot fire? If someone can play the fiddle, all the better.

3. Carve some fine looking Jack-O-Lanterns.
This is a no-brainer. Download some fancy cutting patterns from the web. Spend time as a family carving out some pumpkins. Put some candles in them and let them burn outside your house for a week or so before Halloween. My kids always like to see who has jack-o-lanterns in front of their house. Do you want to make friends in the neighborhood? Have a carving party and give a prize to the best jack-o-lantern.

2. Visit the graves of your loved ones
This applies more to All Souls Day (Nov 2) than it does to All Saints Day (Nov 1). Still the point is to remember our loved ones and to pray for those who have died marked with the sign of faith. Death is not the last word. Christ has overcome death by His own sorrowful passion and death through the resurrection. That is is the source of our hope and strength of all the saints.

1. Be holy.
If you persevere in the love and grace of God, you too shall be a saint. The whole point of “All Hallows” is to remind us to be “hallowed” or “sanctified”. Most of us won’t have our own particular feast day and so All Saints Day will be our feast day. It is the feast day for most of the Church’s saints, those who lived peaceably, followed Christ, loved their families, accomplished their duties in life and passed on to the next life. May their prayers be with us.

Have other Halloween ideas? Share them in the comment box.

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  • Sean P. Dailey

    This is very good, Taylor, thank you very much. I especially liked point no. 6. As I tell people, the devil, besotted with pride, hates being mocked. So we dress in scary costumes — incuding, yes, devil costumes — and mock him, in true, robust, Catholic fashion, and have a wonderfully good time doing so.

  • Dorian Speed

    Oh, this is really good.  When I saw the headline I was afraid the article would be, basically, “don’t have Halloween if you’re Catholic.”

  • Fr Eric

    Idea:  go to a local beatnik coffee shop and sprinkle Holy Water on some druids.  Breastplate of St. Patrick is good to pray beforehand. 

  • Taylor Marshall

    Sean,
    I’d draw the line on devil costumes.
    I think that this sort of thing would please the demons – plus little kids
    don’t always get the “mocking” aspect.
    Godspeed,
    Taylor

  • Bruce in Kansas

    We make a smiling ”Mr. Bones” out of old plastic milk jugs and hang him from a tree branch in the front yard. We remind the kids that we celebrate the Church Triumphant and believe in the resurrection of the body, so our bones, God willing, will be reunited with our immortal soul at the end of time.

  • Sean P. Dailey

    There are various opinios here, Taylor, so I’ll agree to disagree. :)

  • anonymous

    Genrally I like your comments, but you should avoid sensitive areas like Halloween.  Your comments smell of the spirit of relativism that pervades our culture.  There is no fusion of Halloween and “All hallows eve” among those who live in the truth.  It is like trying to mix the sacred and the profane in the liturgy – there is a clear distiction between things that are set apart and those that are of this world.  The celebration of one of the most holy days of the year (in the Feast of all Saints) is the former, and the attempt by the demonic to usurp the celebration of this holy day is the latter.

    If you clearly cannot see the connection between the attempts to take Christ out of Christmas, and the honor due the saints out of the celebration of the feast of all saints, then there is something wrong.  I say this in all charity to Taylor and all who read.

    People, we need to have a healthy understanding of the separation between the sacred and the profane, and even the demonic.  It is a well known fact that Haloween is one of the great Occult feast days of the year, to juxtapose the great feast of all saints (and I would say, to try to eccplipse it).  If you don’t believe me, ask this question:  How many Catholics this Halloween will celebrate Halloween and dress up in some ghastly outfit, never putting on a costume of a saint-hero, and even worse, not even make it to the required holy day of obligation /mass the next day?

    I wish here I had some statistics – maybe someone could provide some.

    Pax – again respectfully, Taylor, usually I enjoy your pieces.  Keep up the good work.

  • bt

    “Give out big handfuls of candy and the extra large candy bars, if you can. In the long run, you will make more converts with your charity. After all, you’ll be known as “the house that always gives out good candy”.”

    That is the truth!

  • Danny

    I love Halloween, the beginning of the Solemnity of All Saints, why not celebrate it as such.  I agree it is a great opportunity to build relatiionships and get to know your neighbors, and for them to get to know you.  Why acceed to all of the practices of popular culture and consumerism though.  Why not dress you children like the saints (such a variety to choose from and so educational for young people), and when they go from house to house instead of saying “trick or treat” they could offer to pray for the person, or ask the saint they are dressed like to pray for the kind distributor of candy.  Why not pray first vespers as a family, or host a party whose focus is the Saints (whose feast starts sundown of the 31st) who taught us to live like Christ and not horror movie villains?  It is not the “ghoulishness” of Halloween that should concern people but the de-Catholicizing of it.  Even if many of the practices are relatively harmless, would you change the way Christmas eve is celebrated and practiced, would change Christ as the explicit reason for its celebration to along with society’s changing practices around it, because it is comfortable or easy?

    Thanks be to God always

  • Kristy

    I am utterly confused.  I am a recent revert, having lived as a Protestant for 17 years.  I have researched this Halloween topic over and over and over hoping for some reason for my conscience to be OK with allowing my kids to celebrate like the rest of our friends.  There are basically two positions held by Christians.  One, it’s Satan’s holiday and therefore do not participate.  Or two, it’s a Christian holiday, and it’s fine.  But the latter position is very difficult for me to follow.  It seems like the only Christian aspect of the holiday is the name, deriving from All Saints Day.  But every other fact about the holiday seems like it is really a counter-holiday to All Saints Day.  It’s the satanic response to All Saints Day.  Or at least that is what I gather.  And there are certainly horrific unspeakable things that take place on Halloween to counter All Saints Day.  I cannot teach my kids to embrace the true meaning of Christmas and Easter but ask them to ignore the true meaning of Halloween.  I’d love for someone to show me how I can believe otherwise!  There is so much fun in the holiday for kids! 

  • timmy baugh

    sorry taylor, you missed the mark on this one. this did not become a Christian holiday until long after its druid pagan and “evil” practice was well established. like so many of our holidays which were established to blot out the meaning and existence of its pagan predecessor, its intended overthrow was well intentioned, but unlike the others, it maintained its theme of darkness and evil. so no, it is not a thing that we can go doing with a clear conscience convincing ourselves that we’re not totally selling out for the purpose of not having to swim upstream. c’mon man, just take a deep breath, realize you have to give it up, and accept that the world is going to chalk you up as another religio-nut-job who can’t “just let the kids have their fun” i wish my parents had made the hard call and done the right thing on halloween. it sure would’ve made my life a bit easier in the long run. 

  • timmy baugh

    sorry taylor, you missed the mark on this one. this did not become a Christian holiday until long after its druid pagan and “evil” practice was well established. like so many of our holidays which were established to blot out the meaning and existence of its pagan predecessor, its intended overthrow was well intentioned, but unlike the others, it maintained its theme of darkness and evil. so no, it is not a thing that we can go doing with a clear conscience convincing ourselves that we’re not totally selling out for the purpose of not having to swim upstream. c’mon man, just take a deep breath, realize you have to give it up, and accept that the world is going to chalk you up as another religio-nut-job who can’t “just let the kids have their fun” i wish my parents had made the hard call and done the right thing on halloween. it sure would’ve made my life a bit easier in the long run. 

  • Sand Mama

    Thanks for your article. I enjoyed your suggestions and will try to put them to good use. We live in a neighborhood where Halloween is a big deal. Our neighbors have a pumpkin carving, a bbq, trick or treats and movies for the kids.
    The only part I’ve ever avoided is the movies because I dont think they are appropriate. But mine are usually so whooped up that the last thing they want to do is sit infront of a movie anyway.
    We will spend a lot of time talking about All Saints and All Souls, and discussing the issues of good and evil and the supernatural.
    The author’s intention was to show that if parent’s take a firm hand and guide the action, joining one’s neighbors to celebrate Halloween can be done in a Catholic way.
    My suggestion? Dont forget All Saints and All Souls, make them just as appealing and fun. We bake All Saints cupcakes. I decorate them with Saint cutouts and then the kiddos have to claim a saint and go and find out and tell us about him/ her before they can have their cake.
    And yes, Mexican Catholics are a great source of ideas for this.

  • Jonathan

    Taylor,
    You stated in point #4 that “Catholics used to specialize in bonfires.”  What do you mean by that?  What’s the Catholic basis/history behind bonfires?

    Thanks and great post!

  • Keith

    I guess you’d have to ask John Hus that question.

  • Sean P. Dailey

    I feel bad for you, Kristy, I really do. Trust me, Halloween is not “satan’s holiday” or “a satanic response to All Saints Day.” There are many ancient origins of what we now call halloween and none of them have satanic origins. Many of the origins pre-date Christianity but that does not mean they’re satanic. They are merely an expression of the ancient pagan yearning for the fullness of truth that was finally revealed in the Incarnation, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus, and told in the Gospels.

    Christian missionaries who went across northern Europe rooted out all that was contrary to the Gospels, but whatever customs were not contary, they retained. Celebrating the eve of All Hallows with harvest festivals, and festivals honoring the dead, is not contrary to the Gospels. These things are part of a rich, full Catholic life that has one foot firmly planted in the sacred, and one foot planted in everyday, ordinary life.

    Modern so-called “pagans” (it is an insult to ancient pagans to refer to modern New Age Wiccans, et al, as pagans) may use Halloween for ther nonsense, but so what? They are as ignorant of true history as a garbage can is. Just because some people abuse marriage does not mean we get rid of marriage, and just because some people abuse Halloween also is no reason to fear and loathe Halloween.

    ‘K?

  • Kristy

    Sean, I’m not trying to be argumentative.  I just would love to be able to be OK with Halloween again.  I need facts to be OK with it.  I really like your explanation of the holiday.  It still seems to me that death and evil is applauded so much on this holiday, and it bothers me.  I think I will try to focus on All Saints Day as others suggested and incorporate that into our family celebration.

  • rwflammang

    Sean P. Daily and Timmy Baugh,
    I don’t think that Halloween has any ancient pre-Christian origins. If there is any evidence that Halloween, as distinct from All Saint’s Day, existed before the 16th century, I’ve never seen it. The earliest cited mention of All Saints Day on November 1st is in 4th century Germany. There is no evidence of an earlier German holiday on that date.
    Some folks think that Halloween is linked to the medieval Irish holiday of Samhain (pronounced sow-en), but there is no evidence for trick-or-treating or mumming (dressing up) on Samhain, nor was it associated with ghosts, at least, not before November became the month to pray for the dead. Since the origins of Samhain are not known, it has become fashionable to speculate that its origins might have been pre-Christian, but there is no historical evidence to support this, only conjecture. There is no surviving documentation, at any rate, of any “ancient druid holiday” in the fall or at any other time of the year.
    I’ve heard it said that the druids believed that at Samhain the nether world and middle earth drew closer to each other, and there was some cross over between them. I always ask, “How do you know”? I never get an answer. I seriously doubt that any pre-Christian documentation exists for such beliefs. But it’s easy to imagine Catholics believing that the world and purgatory “draw closer together” in November, and that prayers said in one place benefit those in the other.
    Sometimes people talk about an ancient Roman fall holiday, usually called Pomona, but no such holiday existed. Sometimes people say that Halloween comes from the Roman holidays of Feralia or Lemuria, when the spirits of the underworld would be appeased, but Feralia was in February, and Lemuria was in May. Nor did these holidays feature pumpkins, trick-or-treating, or dressing up.
    Of course wassailing, which has obvious parallels to trick-or-treating, and mumming, including dressing up as the devil, was a popular Christmas past-time in medieval northern Europe. The reformation in Britain aimed to put an end to this sort of celebrating of Christmas. Perhaps these Halloween celebrations were originally a sort of milder resurgence of the older (and MUCH rowdier) Christmas celebrations.
    But then, the romantic in us wants to believe that Halloween is an ancient pagan holiday, and not a 17th century spin-off from Christmas. I doubt that any lack of evidence will put a crimp in any devout neo-pagan’s celebration of his ripped-off Christian holiday ;)

  • The Ranter
  • The Ranter

    I would add too, that it is not an occasion to dress provocatively and thus lead others into sin.

  • Maria

    I agree that we need to reclaim Halloween, not give it up.  It takes effort though, just saying, “Oh, Halloween’s OK” will not help our children to know the real meaning of the day.  In addition to some of the suggestions you’ve given, we’ve done some of the following:  host All Saint’s Day parites, have the kids dress as saints for trick-or treating (not necessarily canonized saints), and YES, give out holy cards with the candy.  I put a poem on the back, it reads “Halloween is All Sains Eve, In goblins and ghouls we don’t believe, But in the Saints whose gentle love, Leads us on to God above.  So here’s a treat and a holy card too, To help you be sweet like the Saints before you.  May God bless you on All Saints Day!”

  • rwflammang

    Maria,

    What a great poem!

  • Anonymous Catholic

    You’ve been misled, friend.

    Halloween is a Catholic holiday. Its origins are entirely Catholic and it’s been celebrated by Catholics for over 1300 years.

    Look at the entry for Halloween at TRADITIO, one of the most traditional Catholic sites on the net, here: http://traditio.com/tradlib/faq11.txt

    It’s a very informative article. I know there are some neo-traditional Catholics who have their facts wrong. Of course you don’t mess around with astrology or occultism or whatever, but so much of what we know and do on Halloween is from us Catholics. Remember that, and to Hell with the Devil!

  • Anonymous Catholic

    Krsty, look at the link above to Traditio.com and scroll down to the Halloween entry. It’s a great little article. There’s also a bit more info in the old Catholic Encyclopedia, which talks about Hallowe’en as the vigil of All Hallow’s Day: http://newadvent.org/cathen/01315a.htm

  • Bernie

    If this is such a Catholic festive occasions, what Catholic symbolism is in a jack-o-lantern or devil costume. Don’t be fooled. This is not Catholic, just the oposite, satanic.

  • Taylor Marshall

    Bernie
    A jackolantern is a carved gord with a candle in it. And I don’t wear
    devil costumes.
    Godspeed
    Taylor
    Sent from my iPhone. Please pardon the brevity of this response.
    On Oct 30, 2010, at 8:43 PM, “Echo”

  • Bernie

    Taylor,
    There is no mention of God or His glory, or anything else about God. There is no mention of God what so ever. Proper Catholic practices do not follow this form. It cannot be anything but satanic.

  • Taylor Marshall

    Dear Bernie,
    At my home, at my children’s school, and even at my parish the children
    dress as saints (though not at Holy Mass!), pray the Litany of the Saints,
    and talk about the Lives of the Saints.
    Nobody in my circle is dressing like a devil. Nobody’s bringing out the
    Ouija boards. Nobody’s drinking blood. Nobody’s dressing like Ozzy Osborne.
    Nobody’s consulting with Baphomet.
    Look at like this. Christmas isn’t essentially about commercialism; and
    Easter isn’t essentially about chocolate eggs. Yet these practices don’t
    invalidate these Holy Days and they don’t mean that you can’t give a gift or
    eat chocolate just because our culture abuses the day.
    You’re looking at the way the feast is celebrated *wickedly* and making an
    over-generalized judgment. Things can be done well. Why not honor the saints
    (those hallowed ones) accordingly and not give in to the evil?
    Pilage the Egyptians!!!
    Godspeed,
    Taylor
    On Sat, Oct 30, 2010 at 10:04 PM, Echo <
    js-kit-m2c-TKDRP94EHF0HNHQ5606SOFGS0HVERUQE92QDJF8CTRNHT40773J0@reply.js-kit.com

  • David

    Thank you for this (and to the commentators on this and the linked postings)!

    rwflammang was especially heartening: it was also my impression that there is a lot of (too confident) conjecture and too few facts about (possible) ancient pagan origins/contributions in the world of ‘Hallowe’en scholarship’. (Does anyone know any carefully scholarly sources on (of off) line?)

    One parallel I have not noticed anyone pointing out is with other festive activities beyond wassailling and mumming in the literally darker seasons of the year, involving fire, lanterns (etc.), and begging (in costume).

    One prominent example still celebrated widely in (parts of) Germany and the Netherlands (I’m not sure of ‘further north’) is the Feast of St. Martin. You can easily find films on You Tube of processions of children with lanterns and lamps – which in years gone by were more generally carved out of turnips, (sugar) beets, rutabegas, etc., and (German-language) sites with St. Martin songs.

    Calan Gaeaf Llawen and a Blessed All Hallows’ Eve!

  • rwflammang

    David,

    Ronald Hutton in his “Stations of the Sun” gives an exhaustive account and analysis of all known primary sources of Halloween and many other holidays.

    The fourth century German origin of All Saints Day I gleaned from Butlers Lives of Saints, the big four volume edition. He lists primary sources at the end of the Nov. 1 entry. I should double check his sources because 1: his scholarship is getting long in the tooth now, and 2: 4th century seems improbably early too me.

  • David

    rwflammang,

    Many thanks for the references!