The History of Halloween ~ Fr. Francis X. Weiser

Painting by Michael Humphries

I know of many good Catholic families who have taken Halloween and turned it into a Catholic celebration. Mary Reed Newland explains how they did it in this post. In our parish, we have our All Saints’ Day Party on Halloween. Catholics need to be creative and active in counteracting the world’s way of doing things….

From the Handbook of Christian Feasts and Customs by Fr. Francis X. Weiser, 1952


Unlike the familiar observance of All Souls, Halloween traditions have never been connected with Christian religious celebrations of any kind.

Although the name is taken from a great Christian feast (Allhallows’ Eve), it has nothing in common with the Feast of All Saints, and is, instead, a tradition of pre-Christian times that has retained its original character in form and meaning.

Halloween customs are traced back to the ancient Druids. This is attested to by the fact that they are still observed only in those sections of Europe where the population is wholly or partly of Celtic stock.

In ancient times, around November 1 the burning of fires marked the beginning of winter. Such Halloween fires are kindled in many places even now, especially in Wales and Scotland.

Another, and more important, tradition is the Druidic belief that during the night of November 1 demons, witches, and evil spirits roamed the earth in wild and furious gambols of joy to greet the arrival of “their season”—the long nights and early dark of the winter months. They had their fun with the poor mortals that night, frightening, harming them, and playing all kinds of mean tricks.

The only way, it seemed, for scared humans to escape the persecution of the demons was to offer them things they liked, especially dainty food and sweets. Or, in order to escape the fury of these horrible creatures, a human could disguise himself as one of them and join in their roaming. In this way they would take him for one of their own and he would not be bothered.

That is what people did in ancient times, and it is in this very form the custom has come down to us, practically unaltered, as our familiar Halloween celebration: the horrible masks of demons and witches, the disguise in strange and unusual gowns, the ghost figures, the frightening gestures and words, the roaming through the streets at night, the pranks played, and finally the threatening demand of a “trick or treat.”

The pumpkin “ghosts” or jack-o’-lanterns with a burning candle inside may well be a combination of the demon element and the Halloween fire. These pumpkins are found all over central Europe at Halloween, in France, southern Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and the Slavic countries. So is the custom of masquerading and “trick or treat” rhymes, at least in the rural sections where ancient traditions are still observed.


 In those countries that once belonged to the Roman Empire there is the custom of eating or giving away fruit, especially apples, on Halloween. It spread to neighboring countries: to Ireland and Scotland from Britain, and to the Slavic countries from Austria.

It is probably based upon a celebration of the Roman goddess Pomona, to whom gardens and orchards were dedicated. Since the annual Feast of Pomona was held on November 1, the relics of that observance became part of our Halloween celebration, for instance the familiar tradition of “ducking” for apples.”

A dwelling that is neglected, cold, deserted, silent, dark, and without the serenity and bright warmth of family living, is not a home. And yet, an intimate home is so beautiful if it radiates!

May yours be like this, dear sons and daughters, in the image and likeness of the home of Nazareth! There was never a home more intimate but at the same time more cordial, more lovable, more peaceful in poverty, or more radiant; why does it not live on even now and illumine all Christian society by its radiation?

To the degree in which it is forgotten, you see, to that degree the world grows dark and cold. -Pope Pius XII

We’ve heard the term before….Domestic Monastery. I understand the sentiment and I think it is a lovely term that is loaded with possibilities within the home. Personally, my home couldn’t be mistaken for a monastery at any given time…

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365 Days of Catholic Wisdom: a Treasury of Truth, Beauty, and Goodness! Available here.

Thinking with the mind of the Church, Dr. Hudson has mined the riches of faith and reason with which the Church has blessed civilization and with which She has shone forth the splendor of truth across two millennia.

It was G. K. Chesterton who quipped that the Church is the one continual institution to have been thinking about thinking for two thousand years, and it is for this reason, as Chesterton also quipped, that She saves us from the ignominy of ignorance which makes us children of our own time and slaves of the Zeitgeist. It is She who enables us to think outside the temporal box so that we can perceive the time.

Dr. Hudson knows that the Church thinks with the mind of the theologian and philosopher but also with the heart of the saint and with the eye of the poet. He also knows that God shows us Himself most powerfully through the art of narrative, through storytelling and parable, and through that primary story which is history itself. Knowing this, he has filled these pages with the wisdom of the ages as perceived by a diverse range of sages, including theologians, philosophers, saints, mystics, poets, novelists, and historians.

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