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The Church and Halloween

English Spanish
Halloween, a cherished and well-loved ritual in America, is often marked in the marketplace as early as September, with an abundance of pumpkins, squash, fall colors, costumes and candy. Most find this a time to think about parties, trick-or-treating, and costume parades. Its origins may surprise some. Having both Christian and Celtic origins, both traditions had one common preoccupation about the night of October 31: remembering the dead.

Ancient Celtic origins can be traced to the festival of Samhain, which marked a transition from harvest to New Year. The festival was also a time for the dead to walk the earth, and for the living to respond to Samhain (“lord of the dead”) with sacrifices and bonfires.

Medieval Christian celebrations of All Saints Day and All Souls day on Nov. 1 and 2, respectively, also offered an opportunity for the living to remember the deceased. Irish immigrants brought their “All Hallow’s Eves” (later Halloween) traditions with them to America in the 19th century, like bobbing for apples and masked neighbors playing good-natured pranks on one another.

Modern-day American celebrations of Halloween seem to have become more of a consumption ritual than one of remembrance of the dead or transitions between seasons. The Halloween industry in the United States begins its sales cycle as early as September and often continues to sell Halloween products into November. Candy, costumes, and decorations flood the marketplace at this time of year.

Public safety and crime have also become byproducts of 21st century Halloween activities. For example, the Miami-Dade police website includes a section on Halloween, which contains warnings to the public to check their children’s treats, call the police when harmful items are found, pre-plan and know their children’s routes, and be suspicious of older children who come to their homes more than once “because they may be casing it for burglary”.

The Church’s liturgical calendar offers us an opportunity to revisit the early spirit of Halloween in remembering the dead and celebrating the communion of saints. Children and families can take time to learn about the saints or remember the dead in addition to taking part in wholesome Halloween fun. Visiting a cemetery on All Souls Day to pray for the dead is a beautiful act of mercy, especially for souls in purgatory.

Ultimately, in whatever we do, our lives should witness to authentic Christian living – not just a mindless partaking of what has evolved into a consumption ritual. I leave you with the words of St. Paul to the Philippians: “Your kindness should be known to all. The Lord is near.” (Philippians 4:5).

This blog references the following:
- “Halloween in America: Contemporary Customs and Performances,” article by J. Santino in Western Folklore 42 (1): 1-20.
- “Halloween: An Evolving American Consumption Ritual,”article by Russell W. Belk in Advances in Consumer Research 17 (1990): 508
- Halloween safety tips: http://www.miamidade.gov/mdpd/safety_halloween.asp

Comments from readers

Bishop Estevez - 10/22/2010 04:18 PM
I have enjoyed reading the comments received. I have learned the historical meaning of trick or treat. I am very appreciative to several of you who indicated you would use the blog for your classes. Indeed it is a relevant topic this month for our children and their families.
I am also very appreciative of the gratitude others felt for this blog. As any type of communication the feedback received is certainly valued.
Sergio J. Guzman - 10/22/2010 02:01 PM
Dear Bishop Estevez:

Thank you so very much for your most need article on Halloween and the Feast of All Saints! I will use it as basis for open discussion during CCD next week.

Your servant in Christ,

Sergio J. Guzman
MANUEL ANTONIO PELAEZ,MA - 10/20/2010 10:18 AM
Bishop Felipe, this is a very good and well supported article. Sincerely
Manuel Pelaez,MA Pastoral Hispana de Jovenes Adultos
Maria E. Semper - 10/19/2010 05:24 PM
Dear Bishop:
Your words are always enlightening and food for deep meditation. Certainly, St. Paul's words are an inspiration and should always be our guidance in all we do and in all we celebrate and in our daily lifes.
Thank you for your teachings.
Maria E. Semper
Carmen M. Villafane - 10/18/2010 06:34 PM
How wonderful to participate in your blog, Bishop Estevez! It's great to see how in tune with the times we have become as Church. I will be definitely use your article in class this month:)

Many blessings for health & peace,

Carmen M. Villafane
Richard DeMaria - 10/18/2010 04:16 PM
Bishop, Thank you for a timely and balanced blog I am sure it will be helpful to many parents.

How sad it is that a night which was once an event that everyone in the neighborhood looked forward to has become dangerous.

Actually, it wasn't always such an innocent idea. The activity used to be called "trick or treat". Children learned the art of blackmail: homeowners were intimidated into giving a treat in order to avoid a follow up trick on those who didn't participate.

In any case, it has long been a practice in our schools to Christen (or reclaim) this holiday by having the children dress as a favorite saint on November 1st for a procession of saints. Richard
Sharon Miller - 10/18/2010 04:03 PM
Blessings Bishop Estevez!!!!
We are grateful for the gift of your time in researching and writing this article for the edification of the faithful. Thank you for being a Good Shepherd and tenderly caring for the welfare and protection of the sheep entrusted to your paternal care.
Thanks for being a blessing to us!!
United in His Love,
Sharon Miller
Carlota E. Morales, Ed. D. - 10/18/2010 02:57 PM
Dear Bishop,
Thank you very much for such an enlightening article. A topic often discussed, you have given all of us so many answers. As usual, your teachings help all of us in our ministry.
May the Lord continue to bless you so that you can continue to minister all of us.
In His Name,
Carlota E. Morales, Ed. D.
Principal
Sts. Peter and Paul Catholic School

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