All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day: the Christian Counterpart to Samhain or Hallowe’en October 30 2016

Those who grew up going to a parochial school of any kind in the Christian streams of faith know that Hallowe’en is the contraction of Hallow’s Evening. The pagan practices of Samhain or harvest festivals that include the awareness of the thin veil that exists at this time of year between the dead and the living were deeply rooted in ancient cultures. The Day of the Dead in Spanish speaking cultures is another good example along with the Druid festival of Samhain.

In the early years of the rising Christian faith with the establishment of the Vatican in Rome as the “Holy See,” there was a consistent effort to eradicate pagan practices and to replace these with Christian festivals. Samhain proved to be a stubborn one, so the Roman Catholic church moved its feast of all saints from April to the day after Samhain and re-named Samhain, “All Hallows’ Eve,” in an attempt to turn peoples’ thinking away from a focus on the Druid rites and the fright of death, ghosts, and fairies stalking folk traveling about, and towards the many saints advocating for Christians in the Kingdom of Heaven. All Saints’ Day was thus established as the first of November with All Hallows’ Eve replacing the festival of Samhain.

In the Catholic Church, All Saints’ Day is a “holy day of obligation.” Attendance at mass is a requirement on these days. It also means for Catholic school children a day off from school following Hallowe’en, an enviable position for a school-aged youngster! 

All Souls’ Day was also established in the early fifth century with a similar intention. This one is not a holy day of obligation and so attendance at school is as per usual (Ah, well!). However, the more sanctified remembering of those who have died helped new Christians to relate to the departed in a less frightening way, or in brief . . . a less pagan way.

Joža Uprka [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

With our own children it is good to establish a ritual in the family home of remembering those we love who have died. The simple lighting of a candle before a meal or before bedtime with a short time of silence to picture vividly those departed whom we miss and still love is all that is needed. Any time is a good time to practice this reverent moment for remembering, but it is certainly a good idea around Hallowe’en, to help little ones think loving thoughts about the beloved dead. To think of them watching over us with interest and affection can help the young (and the old, too!) feel protected in the scarier parts of this time of year as the days of light turn to the days of darkness.

May all your costumes be beguiling and all your treats be delicious this Hallowe’en. We wish everyone a lot of fun, good costumes, tasty treats, and lovely friends at this fragile time for the Earth and the ending of the harvest season (for this hemisphere!).  Remember to stop at your library; it’s likely to be open!