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Catholic Life Features

History of Halloween, the start of All Saints Day


Everyone knows Halloween is the day we dress as our favorite heroes, villains and ghosts to get candy from our neighbors. But have you ever thought about the roots and religious significance of All Hallows Eve?

A celebration much like Halloween, with bonfires and feasting on apples, was part of pagan worship for centuries. The British celebrated in honor of their sun-god that brought them abundant harvest. At the same time, they saluted their “lord of death,” who was thought to gather together the souls of the year’s dead which had been consigned to the bodies of animals in punishment for their sins. The Romans celebrated the same kind of festival at this time in honor of their goddess Pomona, a patroness of fruits and gardens.

It was in the eighth century that the Church appointed a special date for the feast of All Saints, followed by a day in honor of the soon-to-be saints, the feast of All Souls. October and November were chosen because it was the time of barrenness on the earth.

It was in Ireland and Scotland and England that All Hallows’ Eve became a combination of prayer and merriment. Following the break with the Holy See, Queen Elizabeth I forbade all observances connected with All Souls’ Day. In spite of her laws, however, customs survived.

Begging at the door grew from an ancient English custom of knocking at doors to beg for a soul cake, a form of shortbread, in return for which the beggars promised to pray for the dead of the household.

All Saints Day, also known as All Hallows’ Day or Hallowmas, is a solemn holy day of the Catholic Church celebrated annually on.

Generally, All Saints’ Day is a Catholic Holy Day of Obligation, meaning all Catholics are required to attend Mass on that day. All Saints’ Day was formally started by Pope Boniface IV. Pope Boniface also established All Souls’ Day. The holy day was eventually established on Nov. 1 by Pope Gregory III in the mid-eighth century as a day dedicated to the saints and their relics.

Following the Protestant Reformation, many Protestants retained the holy day, although they dismissed the need to pray for the dead. Instead, the day has been used to commemorate those who have recently died, usually in the past year, and to remember the examples of those who lived holy lives.

It is important to remember these basic facts:

Halloween is a secular holiday that comes the night before All Saints’ Day.

All Saints’ Day is on Nov. 1, and it is a Holy Day of Obligation.

All Souls’ Day in on Nov. 2, and it is NOT a Holy Day of Obligation.

The Day of the Dead is a Mexican holiday that has spread in popularity into parts of the United States and across Latin America. It is celebrated from Oct. 31 through Nov. 2, to coincide with both the American tradition and the Catholic holy days. Those three days are dedicated to all of the dead.