This coming Saturday evening, many of us will be doling out candy to countless little witches, pirates, Ninja turtles, Star Wars characters and, of course, the ever-popular princesses who knock on our doors, crying “Trick or treat.”
The origins of Halloween are an example of inculturation as a means of evangelization. Halloween or All Hallows Eve, the eve of the Feast of All Saints, is definitely of Christian origin, but many of its customs are believed to derive from the Celtic pre-Christian feast of Samhain, which means end of summer and the start of long, dark nights. This was the time, according to the Celts, that the barrier between this world and the next was “thin.” It was believed that the souls of the dead could pass through to revisit their homes and families.
In the ninth century, the Christians wisely moved the Feast of All Saints, which had been celebrated during the spring, to November 1, to take over the old feast of Samhain. The night before All Saints, All Hallows Eve, became a time to pray for the souls of the dead. It was a wonderful way to do away with many of the pagan beliefs and customs of Samhain without declaring war which, as we know only too well, never works.
Halloween came to America with Anglican and Catholic settlers. The Puritans, of course, would have nothing to do with it. The mass migration of Irish and Scots in the 19th century solidified Halloween’s place in the United States, although not especially as a religious feast. Now, practically no one thinks of its religious origins or pre-Christian superstitions either. For example, goblins originally were nasty little demons. Now they are the bankers at Gringot’s, the bank where Harry Potter’s account is located.
However, there are ways to bring back a Christian influence to Halloween. Yes, I suppose you could change the costumes but the kids usually have their hearts set on a character. Here’s an easier way. Let them trick or treat to raise money for a good cause, such as a food pantry, a homeless shelter program or any other Catholic charity that benefits those in need. Be sure to get some identification from the charity you are supporting so that the donors will know you are on the “up and up.” Of course, you will be with the children to keep them safe. They will be doing a Christian work of mercy and avoiding stomach upsets, too. Then, on Sunday, they and you can celebrate a happy All Saints Day.