Wednesday, October 31, 2007

All Hallows' Eve

(Originally posted on 31 October 2006)

"All Hallows' Eve" (Image Source)

From the Medieval Saints Yahoo Group:

Vigil of All Hallows Day (Halloween)

Instituted 1484 (the Vigil is newer than the feast) by Pope Sixtus IV, who established the Feast of All Saints as a holy day of obligation and gave it this vigil (in English-speaking countries called "Hallow Even", or "Hallowe'en"), and an eight-day period or octave to celebrate the feast.

The liturgical vigil was abolished in the Roman Catholic Church in 1955.

Vigil Commemorated October 31


Halloween (Allhallows Even) is the evening of October 31. In its strictly religious aspect this occasion is known as the vigil of Hallowmas or All Saints' Day, November 1, observed by the Roman Catholic and Anglican churches. In the fourth decade of the 8th century, Pope Gregory III assigned this date for celebrating the feast when he consecrated a chapel in St. Peter's basilica to all the saints. Gregory IV extended the feast to the entire church in 834. In Latin countries the evening of October 31 is observed only as a religious occasion, but in Great Britain, Ireland, and the United States, ancient Halloween folk customs persist alongside the ecclesiastical observance.

Students of folklore believe that the popular customs of Halloween show traces of the Roman harvest festival of Pomona and of Druidism. These influences are inferred from the use of nuts and apples as traditional Halloween foods and from the figures of witches, black cats, and skeletons commonly associated with the occasion.

In pre-Christian Ireland and Scotland, the Celtic year ended on October 31, the eve of Samhain, and was celebrated with both religious and harvest rites. For the Druids, Samhain was both the "end of summer" and a festival of the dead. The spirits of the departed were believed to visit their kinsmen in search of warmth and good cheer as winter approached. It was also an occasion when fairies, witches, and goblins terrified the populace. The agents of the supernatural were alleged to steal infants, destroy crops, and kill farm animals. Bonfires were lighted on hilltops on the eve of Samhain. The fires may have been lighted to guide the spirits of the dead to the homes of their kinsmen or to kill and ward off witches.

During the middle ages when the common folk believed that witchcraft was devoted to the worship of Satan, this cult included periodic meetings, known as witches' Sabbaths, which were allegedly given over to feasting and revelry. One of the most important Sabbaths as held on Halloween. Witches were alleged to fly to these meetings on broomsticks, accompanied by black cats who were their constant companions. Stories of these Sabbaths are the source of much folklore about Halloween.

Pranks and mischief were common on Halloween. Wandering groups of celebrants blocked doors of houses with carts, carried away gates and plows, tapped on windows, threw vegetables at doors, and covered chimneys with turf so that smoke could not escape. In some places boys and girls dressed in clothing of the opposite sex and, wearing masks, visited neighbors to play tricks. These activities generally resembled the harmful and mischievous behavior attributed to witches, fairies, and goblins. The contemporary "trick or treat" custom resembles an ancient Irish practice associated with Allhallows Eve. Groups of peasants went from house to house demanding food and other gifts in preparation for the evening's festivities. Prosperity was assured for liberal donors and threats were made against stingy ones. These contributions were often demanded in the name of Muck Olla, an early Druid deity, or of St. Columb Cille, who worked in Ireland during the 6th century. In England some of the folk attributes of Halloween were assimilated by Guy Fawkes day celebrated on November 5. Consequently Halloween lost some of its importance there.

Immigrants from Great Britain and Ireland brought secular Halloween customs to the U.S., but the festival did not become popular in this country until the latter part of the 19th century. This may have been because it had long been popular with the Irish, who migrated here in large numbers after 1840. In America, though some churches observe Halloween with religious services, most people regard it as a secular festival. This reflects the prevailing American attitude toward a great many church festivals and holy days, as we will see in future histories.

Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian


All Hallows' Eve

Halloween or All Hallows' Eve is not a liturgical feast on the Catholic calendar, but the celebration has deep ties to the Liturgical Year. These three consecutive days: Halloween, All Saints Day and All Souls Day, illustrate the Communion of Saints. The Church Militant (those of us on earth, striving to get to heaven) pray for the Church Suffering (those souls in Purgatory) especially on All Souls Day and the month of November. We also rejoice and honor the Church Triumphant (the saints, canonized and uncanonized) in heaven. We also ask the Saints to intercede for us, and for the souls in Purgatory.

Since Vatican II, some liturgical observances have been altered, one example being "fast before the feast" is no longer required. Originally, the days preceding great solemnities, like Christmas and All Saints Day, had a penitential nature, requiring abstinence from meat and fasting and prayer. Although not required by the Church, it is a good practice to prepare spiritually before great feast days.

In England, saints or holy people are called "hallowed", hence the name "All Hallow's Day". The evening, or "e'en" before the feast became popularly known as "All Hallows' Eve" or even shorter, "Hallowe'en".

Since the night before All Saints Day, "All Hallows Eve" (now known as Hallowe'en), was the vigil and required fasting, many recipes and traditions have come down for this evening, such as pancakes, boxty bread and boxty pancakes, barmbrack (Irish fruit bread with hidden charms), colcannon (combination of cabbage and boiled potatoes). This was also known as "Nutcrack Night" in England, where the family gathered around the hearth to enjoy cider and nuts and apples.

Halloween is the preparation and combination of the two upcoming feasts. Although the demonic and witchcraft have no place for a Catholic celebration, some macabre can be incorporated into Halloween. It is good to dwell on our impending death (yes, everyone dies at one point), the Poor Souls in Purgatory, and the sacrament of the Sick. And tied in with this theme is the saints, canonized and non-canonized. What did they do in their lives that they were able to reach heaven? How can we imitate them? How can we, like these saints, prepare our souls for death at any moment?

For more information see Catholic Culture's Halloween page.

Also read from Catholic Culture's library:

  • Ideas for Sanctifying Halloween, All Saints Day and All Souls Day by Jennifer Gregory Miller

  • Halloween and All Saints Day by Father William Saunders

  • Holyween: Reclaim The Celebration Of All Saints by Fr. Vincent Serpa, O.P.

  • Catholics Give the Best Parties by Jeffrey Tucker.

  • From All Info About English Culture:

    The origins of Hallowe'en in England

    On 31st October, the eve of All Saints Day, the people of England celebrate Hallowe'en, or All Hallows' (meaning hallowed or holy) Eve.

    ancient Britain this date was the pre-Christian eve of the New Year and Celtic Harvest Festival, when the souls of the dead were thought to revisit their homes to eat and drink. People left refreshments on the table and unlocked their doors before retiring for the night, then bells were rung, fires lit to guide the returning souls back to earth and animals were brought in for the winter.

    After Hallowe'en became a Christian festival, supernatural associations continued to thrive. It was believed that witches were abroad and that it was possible for certain people to perform magic and summon up spirits. Torches (made from cabbage stalks and bundles of dried heather dipped in grease) were carried and spells were chanted, in the hope that souls condemned to purgatory (from Purgatory Field, Poulton & Purgatory Farm at Weston, Lancashire) would find some relief.

    Hallowe'en was also a time for rituals and divination, when nuts were roasted by young women and apple pips scattered on hot coals - the behaviour of the pips indicating the temperament of their future spouses. Fortunes were told with apples and cabbages; children bobbed for apples in tubs of water; girls combed their hair three times before a mirror in the hope of seeing their future husbands; and lanterns were made from swedes and turnips (gouged out to form a face with a grinning mouth), then kept alight from from dusk until dawn.

    Hallowe'en was once a time for making mischief - many parts of England still recognise this date as Mischief Night - when children would knock on doors demanding a treat (Trick or Treat) and people would disguise themselves as witches, ghosts, kelpies and spunkies, in order to obtain food and money from nervous householders. In certain parts of England youths still play pranks on their neighbours by hiding garden ornaments, whitewashing walls and ringing doorbells in the dead of night.

    There are a great many local traditions associated with 31st October. For instance, Hallowe'en is known as Dookie Apple Night in
    Newcastle upon Tyne, where the local children parade through the streets carrying traditional turnip lanterns. Then in Somerset's Hinton St George, where punkies (Hallowe'en lanterns) are carved from mangel-wurzels on the last Thursday in November (Punky Night), children go through the streets singing. When they knock on doors they receive either money or a candle from the householder. This custom is believed to have originated when the women of the village walked to nearby Chriselborough Fair with punkies to light their way, and from there dragged their drunken husbands home.

    Hallowe'en, like many other ancient festivals, has always provided an excellent excuse for eating and drinking. At one time,
    Mash o' Nine Sorts, with a ring concealed within, would be served to unmarried guests - whoever found it would next be married. Then of course, Toffee Apples are still extremely popular and Hallowe'en Cakes are sometimes still baked in the North of England on what is known there as Cake Day.

    Many local events take place in England during Hallowe'en. If you're keen to go along to some of the more traditional happenings, please take a look at our calendar of
    Traditional Autumn Events.

    See also
    Recta Ratio, which generally has a number of outstanding posts regarding the traditions surrounding All Hallows Eve, All Saints Day, and All Souls Day.

    St. Anthony Messenger also has some informative Halloween write-ups online.

    Fr. Augustine Thompson, OP: "Surprise: Halloween's Not a Pagan Festival After All"

    Taylor Marshall at Canterbury Tales: "Top Ten Things to do for a Catholic Halloween"

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