The Origins of Halloween

The Origins of Halloween

The All American Holiday (From the tract by Grotto Press)

The Date.

Pope Gregory III (d 741) moved All saints Day from May 13th to November 1st to coincide with the dedication of a new cathedral. Of course the evening vigil was celebrated on October 31st hence All Hallows Eve or Hallowe'en.

The Dead

In 997 St. Odillo of Cluny, S. France, added a feast of All Souls. (faithful departed in heaven and purgatory) However, the Irish wondered about those in hell. They thought that the damned might cause trouble if they weren't remembered. So, at least in Ireland, ALL the dead were remembered even though "All Damned Day" was never allowed in the church calendar.

The Costumes

In the 14th and 15th centuries the French started "The Dance Macabre" which was an artistic reminder of their own mortality at a time when the Bubonic Plague was sweeping their country. (Europe lost half her population.) To do this dance, held on All Soul's day, November 2nd, they dressed up in ghoulish costumes. In North America in the 1700s, the French and Irish settlers began to intermarry thus the two costumes were blended.

Trick or Treat

During the 1500s through the 1700s in Protestant England, Catholics were persecuted and many martyred. (It was a capitol offense for a priest to say Mass.)

One of their attempted uprisings against their oppressors backfired when Guy Fawkes, the man guarding the gunpowder, meant to blow up King James I, was captured and hanged.

So November 5th became a great celebration for the Protestants in England (to this day). During that period, bands of revelers would visit Catholics in the dead of night, dressed up in masks, demanding beer and cakes for their celebration. Thus "trick or treat".

Witches and Jack-O-Lanterns

In the late 1800s the greeting card industry tried introducing "The Halloween Card" and since Halloween was already creepy, why not add witches? Also in the 1800s, ill-informed folklorists thought that Halloween was druidic and pagan in origin. Since pagans had used lamps made of turnips (not pumpkins) in their harvest festival, these were added too.


So enjoy being an American, have fun at Halloween but remember its origins; it was a time to remember saints and loved ones, faithful souls who died. Obviously as Christians we stand against witchcraft ("There shall not be found among you any one who...practices divination, a soothsayer, or an augur, or a sorcerer, or a charmer, or a medium, or a wizard, or a necromancer. For whoever does these things is an abomination to the LORD ." Deuteronomy 18:10-12) but we can still have wholesome fun and yet teach our children the real meaning of Halloween.