We celebrate Halloween on the evening before All Saints Day. The word itself is a shortened form of All Hallows' Eve, which quite literally means the eve of All Saints. From the earliest days of the Feast of All Saints (mid-700's A.D.), Catholics observed October 31 as the vigil of this November 1 celebration.
This feast commemorates the lives of Christians who lived exemplary lives of faith.
Pope Sixtus IV introduced an octave to the feast day in the 1400's, which was celebrated until 1955.
In the United States, the secular celebration of Halloween combines the diverse holidays and cultural practices of the immigrants who settled here. The Church has not issued any prohibitions on celebrating Halloween, so Catholics remain free to participate in accord with their conscience. Naturally, such participation must not conflict with the faith or Christian charity.
On All Saints Day we honor all saints, past, present and future.
On All Souls Day we pray for those saints who still have some attached
self-love and are being purified in Purgatory, the Holy Hospital of Heaven.
I have typed in brief descriptions of each of the [events|feast days] in your question from a reliable web site. I also found this article on the Catholic Answers web site:
Although the name of this tradition is taken from the great Christian
(All Hallows' Eve), the observance of Halloween pranks, masquerading, trick
or treat and similar features, are not based on any religious background
nor connected with any Christian meaning. This practice has come down to
us from the demon lore of the ancient Druids.
In a Catholic home, therefore, the participation of the children in such
Halloween activities should not be explained as a part of the Christian
feast, because such explanations would be erroneous. It is an ancient popular
custom from pagan times which has never been associated with Christian
meanings. Let the children enjoy their Halloween festival, if you wish,
but apart from it direct their minds to the fact that this evening is primarily
a time of preparation for the great feast of All Saints, and that after
the Halloween frolics they should turn their minds to God in a devout evening
prayer, and greet all the heroes of God on the eve of their feast.
November 1st: All Saints
The feast of All Saints was established by the Church because a very large
number of martyrs and other saints could not be accorded the honor of individual
celebrations since the days of the year would not suffice. Therefore, as
the prayer of the Mass states, we venerate the merits of all the
saints by this one celebration. There is another reason for the feast.
Pope Urban IV mentioned it in the following words:
omission and irreverence committed in the celebration of the saint's' feasts
throughout the year is to be atoned for by the faithful, and thus due honor
may still be offered these saints."
Pope Urban IV, Decretale Si Dominum.
It might be pointed out that from the very beginning, the commemoration
All Saints included also, in a special way, the Blessed Virgin. When
Pope Boniface IV, in 615, dedicated the former pagan temple of the Pantheon
in Rome as a church, he called it the church of the Blessed Virgin
Mary and all the Martyrs. Thus All Saints is really a great feast
day of Mary, too.
Perhaps this could be the day to acquaint the children with the litany
of the Saints, by saying it together at the family devotion or by encouraging
the older ones to recite it on their own. They should become aware of the
groupings of saints under collective invocations (All holy patriarchs
and prophets, etc.). Thus they will understand that the Church does
not try to mention all saints individually but only chose a few representatives
of each group. The second part of the litany will teach the children how
to pray for the main needs, both temporal and spiritual, of the whole Christian
It was, and still is, a general custom to serve special All Saints pastry
on this day. Usually it is made of sweet dough, with eggs, milk and raisins,
and shaped in different forms and sizes according to tradition in various
places. Perhaps families in this country could make such All Saints cakes,
too? It does not matter what kind of mix and shape is used, as long as
it is a distinctive feature of the feast and will remain associated with
All Saints day in the minds of the children.
November 2th: All Souls
The commemoration of all the Holy Souls in Purgatory was introduced by
St. Odilo, abbot of Cluny, about the year 1000 A.D. He prescribed that all
the monks of his Benedictine congregation should offer the Holy Sacrifice
and say prayers for the suffering souls every year on November 2. The popes
in Rome gladly accepted this wonderful and charitable thought and extended
the celebration to the whole Church. Since then we, not only pray for
the Holy Souls throughout the year but, have a special day devoted to their
prayerful memory. Pope Benedict XV, in 1915, allowed all priests to say
three Masses on All Souls Day, so our dear departed ones will receive greater
help from us and an abundance of mercy from God.
The main religious exercise we can perform on All Souls day is, of course,
to attend the Holy Sacrifice and offer it for the departed ones. That is
why an ancient custom in many countries demands that at least one member
of every family go to church and Mass. It is also a custom to say the Rosary
or other prayers at home for the Holy Souls, and to do some acts of charity
for their sake.
On the afternoon of All Saints day, and during the whole of All Souls,
many Catholics go to the cemeteries to pray at the graves of their dear
departed. They decorate the tombs with lights and lanterns, and all the
graves are adorned with flowers.
Catholic parents might prudently explain to their children that we should
not only pray for the Holy Souls to help them, but that we may also pray
to them for their intercession and help. It is a fact often mentioned among
sincere Catholics that the Holy Souls invariably show their great power
of intercession by unusual and surprising answers to our petitions. Not
only in big and serious matters but even in little things they seem anxious
to help us if only we turn to them in great confidence.
If Catholic parents, or anyone, for that matter, is interested in pursuing praying for the Holy Souls in Purgatory on a regular basis, check out my other web site at:
While it would be nice to think that Catholics celebrate Halloween, I can
assure you that, at least in the U.S., a large majority of Catholics celebrate
Halloween as a secular cultural holiday, whether they should or not. The
number of Catholics who refuse to participate in this secular holiday are
So while it is true that the Catholic Church does not officially celebrate
the holiday known as Halloween, individual Catholics in certain countries,
for better or for worse, celebrate it as they do the other secular holidays.
Evangelicals, and especially Fundamentalists, much more energetically reject
the holiday, as they do anything even remotely connected with paganism.
Faithful Catholics tend to be divided on this. Some, perhaps following
their Protestant brethren; others avoid anything to do with it.
Others, citing the Church's history of admitting cultural practices with
pagan roots if the paganism is extirpated from them, believe some compromise
is admissible. Less faithful Catholics are ignorant of the whole debate
and just go with the flow.
Mary Ann replied:
Halloween is indeed a Christian Feast — All Hallows' Eve: the (Eve of All Saints).
The tricks and gathering of treats are also Christian. Yes, the feasts
and the customs had pagan antecedents, but they are Christian and the pagan
elements were baptized and given new meaning. The processions from house
to house asking for treats, and promising reprisals (tricks) if you don't
give any, comes from the custom of going from house to house begging for alms
in the form of soul cakes.
Soul cakes were sweets that were
baked and given out on this night as an alms whose beneficiary
were the souls in Purgatory. The whole night is emblematic of the Christian
life — give alms now or pay penalties later (and the trick is the playacting
of the penalty).
The costumes and playacting also are Christian. It was a Christian way
of expressing belief in, and lack of fear of the devil, death, and of
all evil things. Mocking them was a part of medieval folklore and plays,
like the mummers' plays. Going out into the night on the eve of the remembering
of the departed (whether Saints or those in Purgatory) as a ghoul, a ghost,
or a devil, was a reminder of death and evil and of our faith in God to
protect us — our faith that as Christians, we are free and destined to be Saints.
On Halloween we thumb our nose at evil, confident in the victory of Christ
over Satan. It is the most wonderful casual way of celebrating, in a
human way, the sacred realities.
Unfortunately, nowadays forces of evil
have claimed it for their own.