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Sunday, October 28, 2012

Hallowmas: Christian Observances

By Nicole Gordine (Own work) [CC-BY-3.0
(], via Wikimedia Commons
There is a great deal of emphasis these days, especially in Evangelical circles, upon the purported pagan origins of the Autumn holidays. There is proportionately little recognition, in most Christian circles, upon the centuries old Christian holidays observed during what used to be called “Hallowmas” (Oct. 31-Nov.2). 

For those who are unaware, the Christian holidays of All Saints and All Souls occur on November 1 and November 2, respectively. All Saints Day used to be called "All Hallows" since "hallow" means "holy".  Naturally, All Saints Day (All Hallows Day), like Christmas and other Christian holidays, has an eve: "All Hallows Eve".

These holidays rest squarely in the Christian concept of the Communion of the Saints which holds that all Christians, everywhere and from every time, are one as the body of Christ.

After long deliberation, I’ve elected not to address the question of whether Halloween should be regarded as non-Christian, especially since this has been done so thoroughly and well elsewhere, such as here (click on "What's New and Current" and then "All Hallows and Day of the Dead")and 
 here.  Suffice it to say that there is no historical connection between the Feasts of All Saints/ All Souls and Samhain, other than the fact that the observance of All Saints was moved to the same time of year as Samhain in the 800s. This, of course, occurred hundreds of years after the setting aside of a feast for all Saints had begun.  Certainly, like Christmas and Easter, Hallowmas intercepted some practices of  then-contemporary pagan observances.  That said, in spite of my decision not to address the question of whether Christians ought celebrate Halloween, I would be remiss if, as a writer/blogger focused upon the liturgical year, I failed to address this season.  A brief treatment follows:

Brief History/Description of the Observances:

Fra Angelico, 15th C  PD-US
At the time of the legalization of the Church in 313, there was already, in many areas, an established tradition of observing a common feast celebrating all Christian martyrs. There were too many of victims of the persecutions to allow each to have his or her own day of remembrance, particularly since many of them had died in collective groups. The dates of observance for this common feast of all martyrs varied, but November 1 was finally established as the official date in the mid 800s. From that time forward, the Feast of All Saints has been celebrated on November 1, with its eve falling on October 31.

The day following All Saints, Nov 2, has been established as the Feast of All Souls.  In the Roman Catholic Church, this is a day for particular focus upon the offering of prayers and masses for the souls in Purgatory.  Among Anglicans, it is known as the Commemoration of the Faithful Departed. Traditional Protestant churches, while they do not embrace the doctrine of Purgatory, have a tradition on All Saints’ Sunday of remembering those faithful departed who died in the previous year. Anglicans, many of whom reject belief in Purgatory in favor of beliefs centered on an Intermediate State, or Paradise, offer prayers for the departed during this time, as always. The Christian practice of offering of prayers for the dead is an ancient one, with references to it in ancient liturgies and in inscriptions on the walls of the catacombs. In medieval times, children would go "a-souling". They went door to door collecting treats (soul cakes) in exchange for promises to pray for the dead of the household. Some may be familiar with Sting's modern version of the song which harkens back to this practice.

“Of course I pray for the dead. The action is so spontaneous, so all but inevitable, that only the most compulsive theological case against it would deter me. And I hardly know how the rest of my prayers would survive if those for the dead were forbidden. At our age, the majority of those we love best are dead. What sort of intercourse with God could I have if what I love best were unmentionable to him?”~C.S. Lewis

(Scroll down to the music player on the right sidebar and click the pause button to quiet the blog's background music while viewing.)

How much different our modern day trick-or-treating tradition would be if children prayed for the occupants of each house as they did in early times as noted in the song that Sting shares with us above.

"God bless the master of this house

And the mistress also
And all the little children
that round your table grow

The cattle in your stable
The dogs at your front door
And all that dwell within your gates
We'll wish you ten times more"

In addition to the remembrances of loved ones "whom we love but see no more", there is a focus upon the lives and example of those "heroes of the church" which we refer to as Saints.

Christian Observances of the Season:
*  Carve a pumpkin with Christian images or symbols. Visit Catholic Cuisine for a host of pictures and links for ideas. There are many ideas here that both Catholics and Protestants will find useful.

*  Dress as a favorite Bible character or Saint (for Protestants: hero of the Church) and tell their stories. Here are some absolutely wonderful ideas.

*An absolutely wonderful, simple family craft for All Souls is here.
Thanks Tiffany, for a great idea!

*  If your family participates in Trick-or-Treating, encourage children to offer a silent prayer for the family residing in each home that is visited.

* Create an arrangement of photos of loved ones who have passed on. Tell favorite stories about them. It is important for children to know of those who have gone before them.

*  Christian homes must have a no tolerance policy for costumes that are not God honoring including the sexualized costumes that seem so popular today. Church All Saints festivals are an excellent avenue for avoiding exposure to these.

*  There is no place in Christian life for evil, the occult, or the demonic. The Saints were beacons of light and holiness in their earthly lives.  We are blessed with Christian hope in the next life, through Our Lord Jesus Christ, for ourselves and those whom we love. Hallowmas is about facing "last things" in holiness, light, and hope in Christ.

Jakub Schikaneder [Public domain, Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

...Test everything.  Hold on to the good. ~1 Thess. 5:21

Eternal rest grant them, O Lord
And let light perpetual shine upon them.

Pax Christi,

Saints and Scripture Sunday


  1. I've been having this conversation a lot recently. I dislike Halloween because it is a grossly obscene secular holiday with no sense of reverence...not because I think it is inherently evil, satanic, etc. We are happily going to an All Saints Day party at our church. My daughter will be St. Brigid and my son is still deciding.

  2. I actually gave tip number 3 as part of my CCD kids' homework this week, especially since those intentions were the original root of Halloween Trick-or-Treating.


  3. Thank you for this helpful explanation.

  4. I really like the prayer song - so appropriate for 'souling'. I have been thinking how my kids could go reverse trick or treating - offering a blessing rather than asking for something.


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