My in-laws are evangelical Christians who assume that Halloween is pagan and therefore is something to be rejected outright. I tend to take a more nuanced perspective. Christian feasts and traditions often integrated with pre-Christian or indigenous customs and traditions. Día de los Muertos is a beautiful example of this for contemporary Mexicans and Mexican-Americans. The truth of the matter is that all these festivals and celebrations can reflect our faith when we choose to prioritize it.
The word Halloween is a Scottish contraction of “eve” or even which becomes e’en or een. Over time, All Hallows’ Eve became Hallowe’en. All Hallows’ Eve was likely influenced by the Celtic festival of Samhain which translates to “Summer’s End” in Old Irish. Yet, All Hallows’ Eve is fully a Christian feast, imbued with symbolism associated the holy days it precedes, All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day. Our modern conception of trick-or-treating may be rooted in an English and Germanic tradition of “souling” or baking “soul cakes” on All Hallows’ Eve. Children would then go door-to-door collecting the soul cakes in exchange for praying for the giver’s departed loved ones.
All Hallows’ Eve, like All Saint’s and All Soul’s Day, honors the prayerful memory of those we have lost.
While Halloween’s origins do not trouble me, my jaw clenches every time I walk into a store and am reminded of the rampant consumerism that this (and many other holidays) has come to represent. No, I do not need a candy-corn scented candle for my bathroom, thank you very much.
The unfortunate reality is that trick-or-treating may be reckless endeavor this year considering the coronavirus. The pandemic will force families to begin new traditions this year. I offer that the grace of this reality is in the opportunity to incorporate the spirit of these holy days back into your family’s celebration.
Here are some simple suggestions to recapture the spirit of All Hallows’ Eve.
• October is the Month of the Holy Rosary. Commit to praying it together as a family in remembrance of lost loved ones.
• If you are inspired by ofrendas found in homes celebrating Día de los Muertos, consider creating an altar space in your home to pray for your deceased loved ones throughout November. Include religious images, pictures of your family and cherished mementos.
• Make Saint-o-Lanterns or carve Catholic-themed pumpkins together. A quick Google search will offer lots of ideas. Follow up the carving with a reading or retelling of the story of your chosen saints.
• Bake cookies together. Add notes of encouragement and prayer and share them with friends who have lost loves ones in the past year.
• Enjoy the time together snuggled around a backyard fire pit, preferably with s’mores. Share stories about the loved ones you have lost. Mom and dad receive bonus points if the kids have never heard the stories before!
However you and your family choose to celebrate this All Hallows’ Eve, I pray that you remain safe and healthy. For all of us who have lost a loved one, especially those of us who have lost a loved one to coronavirus, I share a portion of the All Souls’ Day Prayer from Catholic Relief Services.
On this day, we are called to remember those who have died,
Particularly those who have died in the past year,
And pray for their joyful reunion with you, their loving creator.
As your son taught us to call the stranger
neighbor, our fallen are many—
Names we will never know,
Voices we have never heard,
In lands we may never visit,
Yet brothers and sisters all.
And so we pray, in Jesus’ name…