Let's Take Back Halloween

All Hallows Eve in Sweden
There was a brief time in my young adulthood when I was an Evangelical Fundamentalist. During that time I believed Halloween was the "devil's night." At first I hid indoors with the lights off and refused to participate in this "Pagan revelry." Then the next year I stood outside with my girlfriend (now wife) and her sister, again with the lights off to my house, shaking our heads at these "poor misguided children." The next year I played along, left the porch light on, and let those poor kids walk right into my trap. "Trick or Treat!" They shouted. I opened the door, told the kids to make sure their parents read this, and put anti-Halloween Chick Tracts in their baskets.

These days I look back on all of that with embarrassment. Yes, I was young. Yes, I was naive. Yes, I was poorly educated, even by Protestant standards. However, my intentions were good. I meant to do well. I just had no bloody idea what I was doing.

I've met a lot of Christians who have similar attitudes about Halloween. Some are Evangelical Fundamentalists, like I was, and some are Traditional Catholics. The latter are usually a bit more educated than the former, but still just as paranoid. As time has passed, and I've spent the last quarter century educating myself about these things, I've come to the conclusion that such people have not only got it all wrong, but they're actually unwittingly PARTICIPATING in the very thing they hate. Because you see, by hiding out in your homes, you're actually lending credence to the notion that Halloween really is the "devil's night" and something to be loathed and shunned. You're actually giving power to those who have turned Halloween into something it was never supposed to be.

To be sure, there has been a horrible perversion of Halloween in our godless Secular culture. There most certainly is a glorification of the occult, violence and death. That is Secularism's influence on Halloween. It has nothing to do with devil worship, witchcraft, paganism, or whatever. Rather, it has everything to do with making money. Hollywood produces grotesque slasher films, which people pay millions of dollars to see. Then these movie producers franchise with various costume makers to sell slasher costumes to children and teens. The cycle perpetuates itself every year, and just like the commercialisation of Christmas, big corporations are making money hand-over-fist, selling a holiday that most people no longer associate with religion.

I've already blogged about ways of taking back Christmas, and I'll probably do it again in the future. For now, however, it is All Saints Day, and my kids are enjoying some of their candy from last night's Halloween revelry. I can think of no better time to blog about the true meaning of Halloween and how we can take it back.

Halloween is a CATHOLIC HOLIDAY. I bet you didn't know that. Yep, it sure is, and its been hijacked, first rather innocently by the Protestants, which really worked out well for us. But then in my generation, however, it was hijacked by Secular commercialism, which has really turned out bad for everyone. So how is Halloween a Catholic holiday?

The name "Halloween" comes from three Old English words: "All Hallows Eve." The word "All" means the same thing it does today. The word "Hallows" is an old way of saying holy or saintly. When one said "Hallows" in this context, it meant "Saints." The word "Eve" is the short way of saying evening. So what you're saying when you say "All Hallows Eve" is really "All Saints Evening." Today, Catholics often refer to it as the Vigil (or evening) of All Saints Day.

You see, Catholics follow the Jewish custom of counting the beginning of a major religious feast as starting on the evening of the night before. For example, Christmas Eve is the Vigil of the Feast of the Nativity. While the Easter Vigil is the night before Easter. Often times, the evening (or vigil) is celebrated with more pomp and circumstance than the actual day of the feast, which is more denoted as a time of rest. This is why Christmas Eve is called the "Oh, Holy Night" and is often celebrated by Catholics with big family dinners, followed by a midnight mass. The next day (Christmas) is followed by gift exchanges, and parents spending the rest of the day in their pajamas and relaxing while children play with their new toys. Those Catholics who are willing to celebrate the Easter Vigil, can look forward to rest and relaxation on Easter Sunday, having already met their Sunday religious obligation the night before. My family is a vigil family. We're all about keeping the vigils, and just loafing around on the actual feast day. Other families prefer to celebrate more on the feast day itself. To each his own, but its all within the scope of what it means to be Catholic.

All Saints day (or All Hallows Day) always falls on November 1st. It is a Holy Day of Obligation for Catholics, which means you have to go to mass, and you should do something in your home special to commemorate the day. All Saints Day is a celebration of LIFE. It's a celebration of all the Christians who have gone on to heaven, to live forever with Christ our Lord. Some of the more notable Saints the Church recognised with their own particular feast days, but there are actually millions of Saints in heaven, and there is no way the Church could commemorate all of them. Some of these Saints are presumably even our beloved family members, who have gone on before us. So All Saints Day (or All Hallows Day) is the day we commemorate all of them together.

All Saints Vigil (or All Hallows Eve) was intended to be the celebration of that life. Lots of customs developed around it. Some of them were superstitious, and some were all just fun and games. Some of them had political meaning. None of them had Pagan origins. I don't care what modern Fundamentalists say. They don't know history. I do. Not a single traditional Halloween custom today has authentic Pagan origins. No. Not a single one. Their actual origin (religious, superstitious, political or fun) is no longer important to us. What matters now is the fun. However, when we have fun, we need to make sure we're doing it in a godly way, that brings attention to what the vigil (eve) of All Saints (All Hallows) is really about -- LIFE not death.  The following is a strategy for how we can easily retake Halloween as a Catholic holiday, with minimal effort, no coordination, and any family can do it while having a blast. So I want to ask you to share this blog post with everyone you know, using email and social media, so that by this time next year, we'll be having a sizeable impact on our culture. Let's put the CATHOLIC back into HALLOWEEN...
  1. Stop calling it "Halloween" (the word "Halloween" is just lazy slang anyway), and start calling it by it's proper name "All Hallows Eve," and simultaneously start referring to All Saints Day as "All Hallows Day." Not only does it sound cool, but it's going to start provoking some questions from your family, friends and neighbours. With each question arises a new opportunity to share your faith and call attention to the true meaning of the holiday.
  2. Be mindful of the type of decorations you put up and the type of costumes you wear. This is supposed to be a celebration of life not death. Jack-O-Lanterns are good, so are seasonal decor like scarecrows, pumpkins, etc. There is nothing wrong with even a little creepy fun like spiders, black cats, and even little ghosts. Remember the celebration of All Saints (November 1) and All Souls (November 2) are interconnected, so there is a theme here. Just try to stay away from the occult and macabre. 
  3. Start treating All Hallows as hallowed. Talk to your parish pastor and see if he'll work with you on this. An All Hallows Eve mass at 4pm on October 31 will meet the holy day of obligation. This should be a solemn celebration of life, and people should dress appropriately for it -- no costumes.
  4. Then again, work with your pastor on this. Try to set up something outside your parish church that has a crucifix, surrounded by pumpkins, gourds, mums and candles -- lots of candles -- resembling the picture featured above. Here, after mass, the parish priest can say some prayers. Maybe a litany of some kind can be used. It's whatever the priest deems appropriate. The spot can be returned to the next day for the Eve of All Souls for prayers for the souls in purgatory. If the parish has its own cemetery, the whole thing should be done there instead, and in addition to the crucifix and circle of candles, at least one candle should be placed on the tombstones of all the departed parishioners. 
  5. Once this is done, presumably just before sunset, the families of the parish can break and go home to prepare for All Hallows Eve festivities. This will be necessary especially for families with young children. Assuming the candles are large enough, they should burn well into the night. I recommend candles inside glass jars for safety reasons. 
  6. As for the All Hallows festivities themselves, they could include the traditional Trick-or-Treating around the neighbourhood if that's what the family likes. In such cases a family can just avoid houses with occult or macabre displays, but that's up to each family's discretion. 
  7. Then around 8pm some of the older parishioners, with grown children, can return to the crucifix or cemetery, using the light from the candles to transfer to a number of Chinese lanterns, and release them in accordance with what city or county law permits. Pastors should check with the city's fire chief to make sure this is safe to do each particular year.
I'm sure you can see the rich symbolism these customs would impress upon those who practice them, and if we are diligent, we'll have retaken All Hallows Eve for Christ and his Catholic Church. You see, we are supposed to be the Church Militant here on earth. It's our job as Christian not to run and hide from evil, but to conquer it, reclaim the times and the seasons for our Lord. I don't know about you, but I'm sick and tired of Secularists who abuse this Holy Feast for ridiculous reasons that it has nothing to do with, and I'm sick of Fundamentalists and Traditionalists who run and hide from it, effectively surrendering the ground to evil. It really is time for us all to "man up" so to speak, and retake this sacred feast for Our Lord and Our Lady.  If you're with me on this, share this story with everyone you can using email and social media, then talk with your fellow parishioners about it, and have a chat with your parish pastor. Feel free to send him this essay if you like. 


Shane Schaetzel is an author of Catholic books and a columnist for Christian print magazines and online publications. He is a freelance writer and the creator of 'CatholicInTheOzarks.com.' Your support is what makes essays like this possible. This essay and all of Shane's Internet resources come to you (ad-free) thanks to the generosity of benefactors. Please consider becoming a benefactor.

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