Happy Halloween!Below is a large portion of an excellent piece on the Catholic roots of Halloween:
Should Catholics Celebrate Halloween? By Scott P. Richert, About.com Guide
A Controversial Holiday:
Every year, a debate rages among Catholics and other Christians: Is Halloween a satanic holiday or merely a secular one? Should Catholic children dress up like ghosts and goblins? Is it good for children to be scared? Lost in the debate is the history of Halloween, which, far from being a pagan religious event, is actually a Christian celebration that's almost 1,300 years old.
The Christian Origins of Halloween:
"Halloween" is a name that means nothing by itself. It is a contraction of "All Hallows Eve," and it designates the vigil of All Hallows Day, more commonly known today as All Saints Day. ("Hallow," as a noun, is an old English word for saint. As a verb, it means to make something holy or to honor it as holy.) All Saints Day, November 1, is a Holy Day of Obligation, and both the feast and the vigil have been celebrated since the early eighth century, when they were instituted by Pope Gregory III in Rome. (A century later, they were extended to the Church at large by Pope Gregory IV.)
The Pagan Origins of Halloween:
Despite concerns among some Catholics and other Christians in recent years about the "pagan origins" of Halloween, there really are none. The first attempts to show some connection between the vigil of All Saints and the Celtic harvest festival of Samhain came over a thousand years after All Saints Day became a universal feast, and there's no evidence whatsoever that Gregory III or Gregory IV was even aware of Samhain.
In Celtic peasant culture, however, elements of the harvest festival survived, even among Christians, just as the Christmas tree owes its origins to pre-Christian Germanic traditions without being a pagan ritual.
Combining the Pagan and the Christian:
The Celtic elements included lighting bonfires, carving turnips (and, in America, pumpkins), and going from house to house, collecting treats, as carolers do at Christmas. But the "occult" aspects of Halloween—ghosts and demons—actually have their roots in Catholic belief. Christians believed that, at certain times of the year (Christmas is another), the veil separating earth from Purgatory, heaven, and even hell becomes more thin, and the souls in Purgatory (ghosts) and demons can be more readily seen. Thus the tradition of Halloween costumes owes as much, if not more, to Christian belief as to Celtic tradition.
The (First) Anti-Catholic Attack on Halloween:
The current attacks on Halloween aren't the first. In post-Reformation England, All Saints Day and its vigil were suppressed, and the Celtic peasant customs associated with Halloween were outlawed. Christmas and the traditions surrounding it were similarly attacked, and the Puritan Parliament banned Christmas outright in 1647. In America, Puritans outlawed the celebration of both Christmas and Halloween, which were revived largely by German Catholic (in the case of Christmas) and Irish Catholic (in the case of Halloween) immigrants in the 19th century.
The Commercialization of Halloween:
Continued opposition to Halloween was largely an expression of anti-Catholicism (as well as anti-Irish prejudice). But by the early 20th century, Halloween, like Christmas, was becoming highly commercialized. Pre-made costumes, decorations, and special candy all became widely available, and the Christian origins of the holiday were downplayed.
The rise of horror films, and especially the slasher films of the late 70's and 80's, contributed to Halloween's bad reputation, as did the claims of putative Satanists and Wiccans, who created a mythology in which Halloween had been their festival, co-opted later by Christians.
The (Second) Anti-Catholic Attack on Halloween:
A new backlash against Halloween by non-Catholic Christians began in the 1980's, in part because of claims that Halloween was the devil's night; in part because of urban legends about poisons and razor blades in Halloween candy; and in part because of an explicit opposition to Catholicism. Jack Chick, a rabidly anti-Catholic fundamentalist who distributes Bible tracts in the form of small comic books, helped lead the charge.
By the late 1990's, many Catholic parents, unaware of the anti-Catholic origins of the attack on Halloween, had begun to question Halloween as well, and alternative celebrations became popular.
Alternatives to Halloween Activities:
Ironically, one of the most popular Christian alternatives to celebrating Halloween is a secular "Harvest Festival," which has more in common with the Celtic Samhain than it does with the Catholic All Saints Day. There's nothing wrong with celebrating the harvest, but there's no need to strip such a celebration of connections with the Christian liturgical calendar.
Another popular Catholic alternative is an All Saints Party, usually held on Halloween and featuring costumes (of saints rather than ghouls) and candy. At best, though, this is an attempt to Christianize an already Christian holiday.
-------------------------------------------As an added "treat" instead of a "trick," I thought I'd share the following video, Midnight Dance -- an animated short film built around the powerful images implied by the musical work by Camille Saint-Saëns: Danse Macabre ("Dance Of Death"). Saint-Saëns' disturbing yet playful tone poem -- and the animated actors created by modern Celts, in Northern Ireland -- can help to remind people of the fragility of their lives and how vain are the glories of earthly life.
I offer this musical work and the video constructed upon it, as vehicles toward helping us to scorn death, chuckle at death, which is a toothless tiger -- for us who believe and hope in the resurrection.
The fear of death and the pagan view of human existence as meaningless both crumble when confronted by our faith and hope in Jesus Christ and His Resurrection. Those who lead their lives in union with Our Lord Jesus and His Church have no fear of death. They can approach the hour of their dance with death with the confidence, that "They will see the Lord face to face, and His name will be written on their foreheads," as The Book of Revelation says. For them, "It will never be night again and they will not need lamplight or sunlight, because the Lord God will be shining on them. They will reign for ever and ever." [Revelation 22:4-5]
We will all, sooner or later, take a dance with death. But for us who have faith in Christ's Resurrection, dancing with death glides us out of the darkness and hopelessness of death into the light and joy of everlasting life with Christ.