Halloween is almost here! I know that is not news to any of you! The stores have been filled with hanging witches and zombies for weeks and nowhere is Halloween on fuller display than in neighborhood yards. Driving through my mom’s neighborhood yesterday, every yard was decorated to the max. I passed by ghosts hanging from trees, and gravestones placed in the grass. There was even a yard with two life-size skeletons lowering a corpse into a coffin. It was nuts! It’s hard not to believe that Halloween is an embrace of the pagan, the occult, or the demonic. Sadly, many of us don’t know the real meaning of Halloween, especially Christians. They don’t know that the celebration of Halloween is really a beautiful Christian celebration that’s been hijacked by our culture. Halloween or All Hallow’s Eve is actually the eve of the Feast of All Hallows’ Day which is another name for All Saints Day, a beautiful day where we lovingly remember the martyrs and saints who faithfully served the Lord and who have died.
All Hallows’ Eve on October 31st and All Saints’ Day on November 1st, is a principal feast day in the Christian calendar. It provides a dedicated day to call to memory those saints who have led the way before us. We recognize those saints who are known, meaning those who have been officially recognized by the Church for their exemplary lives, faith, and contributions to Christianity. They might be early Christian martyrs, theologians, missionaries, or others who've led lives of significant spiritual meaning and impact. We also recognize those saints who are unknown. This refers to the countless believers throughout history who've lived faithfully but haven't been officially recognized or canonized as saints. The belief here is that many people live saintly lives without gaining widespread recognition or having a significant public impact, but their faith and good works are known to God. We honor the example of all of their lives and deaths and rejoice in the continued communion with them through membership and participation in the body of Christ.
All Saints’ Day's origins and establishment as a significant Christian feast day are rooted in early Christian traditions and practices of honoring martyrs and saints. In the earliest days of Christianity, it was common to commemorate the anniversary of a martyr's death for Christ at the place of their martyrdom. As the number of recognized martyrs increased, especially during the intense periods of Roman persecution, it became challenging to assign a separate day for each martyr. Different Christian communities began to establish a common day on which to honor all martyrs. The foundation for a collective celebration can be seen as early as the 4th century when the Feast of All Martyrs was celebrated in the Eastern Church.
In the West in 609 or 610 AD, Pope Boniface IV consecrated the Pantheon in Rome to the Blessed Virgin and all the martyrs. This established an annual feast in Rome on May 1st. In the 8th century, Pope Gregory III moved the date to November 1 and broadened the festival to include all saints as well as all martyrs. Finally, in 837 AD Pope Gregory IV extended the celebration of the feast day from Rome to the entire western church.
Traditionally on the eve of All Saints’ Day or All Hallows’ Eve, Christians attended a vigil where worshippers prepared their hearts with prayers and fasting. They spent the night thinking about and offering thanks to those who had died in faithful service to the Lord and praying that they might be more like them. The church service was known as the Vigil of All Hallows or the Vigil of All Saints. After the service, festivities would begin with food and drink and visits to the graveyard where flowers and candles were placed at the graves. They also went "souling", which evolved into our modern-day trick-or-treating. Children and the poor went about, visiting homes, offering prayers, and in return receiving soul cakes – small, sweet treats infused with spices. In Portugal, a variation of this tradition continues today. Children go door to door, singing songs and asking for a special bread called Pão-por-Deus or "Bread for God."
The Communion of Saints
A core component of All Saints’ Day is the "communion of saints." This doctrine underscores the unity of all believers, living and deceased, in the body of Christ. It reminds us that our connection with fellow Christians doesn't end with death; it continues in God’s holy presence. In Hebrews 11 and 12, St. Paul introduces us to this communion of saints when he reminds us of those who went before us and who faithfully followed God. He encourages us that since we are surrounded by such a “great cloud of witnesses” we should throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles us and that we should run with perseverance the race marked out for us.
We believe that the communion of saints is the spiritual union of all of the members of the Church, both the living, the Church Militant, and those who have died in the faith of Christ, the Church Triumphant. We believe that we are knit together with the saints in the mystical body of Christ. We all worship God together and as we say every Sunday during Holy Eucharist, we join our voices “with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven.” We do not pray to the saints or praise the saints, we join with them in the worship of God. This idea of the “communion of saints” is so pivotal to our faith that it is a part of the Apostles Creed.
A common myth in modern times is that Halloween is based on a pagan festival known as Samhain. The story goes that the Church christianized a popular Celtic festival that celebrated the dead. The earliest documentary sources available indicate that Samhain, just like countless harvest festivals around the world, was a harvest festival with no particular ritual connections to the dead. A direct link between the two is largely speculative and not substantiated by historical records. Halloween, or All Hallows' Eve, originates primarily from Christian traditions marking the eve of All Saints' Day. Its practices and customs, including attending church services, lighting candles on the graves of the holy, and the later traditions of trick-or-treating, have clear roots in Christian liturgical observances. Scholarly research into the origins of Halloween often points to its emergence independently within the Christian tradition, rather than as an adaptation or continuation of pagan Samhain rituals.
Ways to Celebrate All Hallow’s Eve and All Saints’ Day
Read Hebrews 11:1–12:2 and Revelation 7:9-12
Go trick or treating or attend a church’s Halloween celebration.
Go and visit the grave of a loved one. All around the world, Christians visit the graves of loved ones on All Saints’ Day, They bring flowers, clean up the spaces, and spend time reminiscing about and offering thanks to God for the loved ones. If you are unable to visit the grave of a loved one, light a candle in honor in their honor. Have everyone share what they loved about them and offer up a prayer of thanksgiving for them.
Bring flowers to the grave or put some on your porch or in your home in honor of the deceased. Chrysanthemums are the traditional flower in Belgium and France, marigolds are the traditional flowers in Mexico.
Christians all around the world have a special bread or sweet that they make for All Saints’ Day. In Portugal they make Pão-por-Deus (Bread for God), in Mexico they make Pan de Muerto (Bread of the Dead), in France they call it Pain des Morts (Bread of the Dead). This bread is often shaped like a coffin or a cross. In Spain, they make a sweet called Huesos de Santo (Saint's Bones). In Austria they make Allerheiligenstriezel, a sweet braided bread called often enjoyed with a cup of coffee or tea.
Make Ossa dei Morti or Bones of the Dead. These almond-flavored, bone-shaped cookies are made to honor the deceased and are often enjoyed with a glass of wine.