The Catholic origins of Halloween

By Father Ángel Pérez-López, PhD, STL

The word “Halloween” is a contraction of the expression “all hallows’ eve” or “all saints’ eve.” It is a deeply Catholic holiday. We must rediscover it. Let us not fall into the fundamentalism that opposes it without reservation, nor in the trap of secular commercialization, which diverts this festival from its religious origins and creates a neopagan meaning.

The Celtic culture had a celebration called Samhain, which means “end of summer.” They would celebrate the end of the harvest and the beginning of winter, when many people died of cold. However, the Catholic origins of Halloween date back to more than 1300 years ago during the vigil of the Feast of All Saints. It was instituted by Pope Gregory III when, in the eighth century, he dedicated a chapel in St. Peter’s Basilica to all the saints. A century later, Pope Gregory IV declared this celebration a holy day of obligation. In addition, he adopted the tradition of Germanic Catholics and changed the date from May to November. Thus, the vigil of this feast shifted to the last day of October, our current Halloween day. None of these popes seemed to know about the Samhain, which ceased when the Celtics converted to Catholicism, even before the Feast of All Saints was instituted.

Now, is it possible that some of these elements from the Celtic feast are still alive today? Of course! The Christmas tree also survived! The tradition of the Christmas tree has Germanic origins and we have adopted it in Catholicism without its pagan origins making it morally bad.

In the United States, the Puritans banned and opposed Halloween radically and without hesitation. Meanwhile, Catholic migrants from Germany and Ireland kept the tradition alive merging some elements of this holiday with the Feast of All Souls. Therefore, people made cakes on Halloween day and children would go from house to house “begging” for these cakes in exchange of prayers for the benefactors’ loved ones and deceased family members.

Historically, the Puritan and Protestant attitude against Halloween was mixed with anti-Catholic feelings in our country. Only the commercialization of the holiday managed to solve this persecutory trend. This commercialization brought about a phenomenon similar to that of Christmas. In the case of Halloween, it meant forgetting God and the saints as the center of the feast. This loss of religious sense was reinforced by the extensive number of horror films that fantasize and attempt to fill it with neopagan, gloomy, and hidden content.

As Catholics, we cannot fall into the mistake of fundamentalists and despise an explicitly Catholic tradition, simply because its commercialization has emptied it of its true content and transformed it into a possible occasion for the dark and gloomy in this neopaganism. We did not reject Christmas, but we fight to keep its true meaning alive. Let’s do the same with Halloween. It is not a celebration of the devil. We don’t have to Christianize or change the name of a celebration that is already, in itself, Catholic. Therefore, Halloween can be celebrated, keeping in mind its origins and avoiding wrongs, such as superstition, witchcraft or the glorification of evil.

Superstition is an excess and perversion of religion (see Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2110) from which we must purify the feast we have been explaining. For example, some Irish migrants endowed Halloween with superstitious content contrary to the faith by merging it with a celebration they invented: “the day of all the damned.” They feared that something bad would happen to them if they didn’t celebrate the damned because these souls would feel excluded. A Catholic Halloween without fundamentalisms cannot fall into a mistake like this; and, as we know, our society is not immune to the problem of superstition. At times, we also fall into this error when we attribute “an importance in some way magical to certain practices otherwise lawful or necessary” (CCC 2111).

A Catholic Halloween cannot promote witchcraft either. There is no such thing as good and bad magic. All magic is an attack against God, it entails a rebellion against him and an attempt to replace him: “All practices of magic or sorcery, by which one attempts to tame occult powers, so as to place them at one’s service and have a supernatural power over others — even if this were for the sake of restoring their health — are gravely contrary to the virtue of religion” (CCC 2117).

Let’s celebrate Halloween without forgetting God and the saints. Parents are the ones who must make concrete decisions on how to educate their children according to the circumstances in their neighborhood. Nonetheless, as long as superstition, witchcraft or the glorification of evil are avoided, the act of a child dressing up and asking for candy, in my opinion, does not necessarily entail, in itself, a moral evil. Let’s not fall into superstition. Let’s not attribute a magical importance to a legitimate practice. We can take advantage of this celebration to teach our children how to celebrate it without fundamentalisms and in a Catholic manner, while they have fun, without sinning and without falling into neopaganism.

COMING UP: Colorado Catholic Conference 2021 Legislative Recap

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On June 8, the First Regular Session of the 73rd General Assembly adjourned. Over 600 bills were introduced this session. Policy primarily focused on transportation, agriculture, healthcare, fiscal policy, and the state budget. However, the legislature also considered and passed many bills that could impact the Catholic Church in Colorado.  

Some bills that were passed will uphold Catholic social teaching and protect the poor and vulnerable of our society while others pose potentially harmful consequences to the Catholic Church, its affiliated organizations, and Colorado citizens who wish to practice their well-founded convictions. There were also many bills that were considered by the legislature that did not pass, including two bills that would have upheld the sanctity of life and two that would have expanded education opportunity for K-12 students.  

The Colorado Catholic Conference (CCC), as the united voice of the four Colorado bishops, advocated for Catholic values at the Capitol and ensured that the Church’s voice was heard in the shaping of policy.  

Below is a recap of the CCC’s 19 priority bills from the 2021 legislative session. For a full list of the legislation the Conference worked on, please visit:  

For regular updates and other information, please sign-up for the CCC legislative network here.  

Six bills the CCC supported that were either passed or enacted

Note: Passed means the bill was approved by both chambers of the legislature and is pending the governor’s signature as of June 9, 2021. Enacted means the bill was signed by the governor and became law.  

HB 21-1011 Multilingual Ballot Access for Voters – Passed  
If enacted, counties where either 2,000 adults or 2.5% of the adult population primarily speak a language other than English will be required to provide a ballot in that language. 

HB 21-1075 Replace The Term Illegal Alien – Enacted 
With the enactment of HB 1075, the term “illegal alien” was replaced with the term “worker without authorization” as it relates to public contracts for services.  

SB 21-027 Emergency Supplies for Colorado Babies and Families – Passed  
If enacted, the state government will allocate much-needed funding for nonprofit organizations to provide diapers and other childcare necessities to families in need, including Catholic Charities.  

SB 21-077 Remove Lawful Presence Verification Credentialing – Enacted    
With the enactment of SB 77, verification of lawful presence will no longer be required for any applicant for a license, certificate, or registration, particularly in the job fields of education and childcare.  

SB 21-146 Improve Prison Release Outcomes – Passed  
If enacted, SB 146 will establish practices that ease the transition back into society for formerly incarcerated persons.  

SB 21-158 Increase Medical Providers for Senior Citizens – Passed  
If enacted, SB 158 will allocate more funding for senior citizen care, which is currently understaffed and underfunded.  

Eight bills the CCC opposed that were passed 

HB 21-1072 Equal Access Services For Out-of-home Placements – Enacted 
With the enactment of HB 1072, Colorado law now prohibits organizations that receive state funding for placing children with adoptive or foster parents from discriminating on, among other things, the basis of sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, or marital status. This new law will likely to be impacted by the imminent Fulton v. City of Philadelphia U.S. Supreme Court decision. 

HB 21-1108 Gender Identity Expression Anti-Discrimination – Enacted 
With the enactment of HB 1108, “sexual orientation,” “gender identity,” and “gender expression” are now recognized as protected classes in Colorado nondiscrimination code. This may have serious religious liberty implications for individuals and organizations that wish to practice their well-founded convictions on marriage and human sexuality. 

SB21-006 Human Remains Natural Reduction Soil – Enacted 
With the enactment of SB 006, human remains can now be converted to soil using a container that accelerates the process of biological decomposition, also known as “natural reduction.” 

SB 21-009 Reproductive Health Care Program – Passed 
If enacted, SB 009 will create a taxpayer funded state program to increase access to contraceptives.  

SB 21-016 Protecting Preventive Health Care Coverage – Passed 
If enacted, the definition of “family planning services” and “family planning-related services” will not be clearly defined in law and could potentially include abortion. Furthermore, SB 16 removes the requirement that a provider obtain parental consent before providing family planning services to a minor.  

SB 21-025 Family Planning Services for Eligible Individuals– Passed 
If enacted, SB 025 low-income women to be given state-funded contraception, “preventing, delaying, or planning pregnancy” services, which includes cessation services and sterilization services.  

SB 21-142 Health Care Access in Cases of Rape or Incest– Enacted  
The enactment of SB 142 removes the requirement that, if public funds are being used, a physician must perform an abortion at a hospital, and instead allows for abortions to be performed by any “licensed provider.”   

SB21-193 Protection of Pregnant People in Perinatal Period– Passed 
If enacted, SB 193 will eliminate an important protection in Colorado law for a preborn and viable baby when a woman is on life support.  

Five bills the CCC supported that failed  

HB21-1017 Protect Human Life at Conception – Failed 
HB 1017 would have prohibited terminating the life of an unborn child and made it a violation a class 1 felony.  

HB 21-1080 Nonpublic Education and COVID-19 Relief Act – Failed 
HB 1080 would have established a private school and home-based education income tax credit for families who either enroll their child in private school or educate their child at home, thereby expanding education opportunities for families during and after the pandemic.  

HB 21-1183 Induced Termination of Pregnancy State Registrar – Failed 
HB 1183 would have required health-care providers that perform abortions to report specified information concerning the women who obtain the procedure to the state registrar of vital statistics, thereby increasing transparency in the abortion industry.   

HB 21-1191 Prohibit Discrimination COVID-19 Vaccine Status– Failed  
HB 1191 would have prevented individuals from being coerced to take the COVID-19 vaccine by either the state or by employers.  

HB 21-1210 Modifications to Qualified State Tuition Programs – Failed 
HB 1210 would have allowed families to use some of their private 529 savings account funds for private K-12 school tuition for their children, including at Catholic schools.   

One bill the CCC opposed that failed 

SB 21-031 Limits on Governmental Responses to Protests– Failed 
SB 031 would have made it more difficult for law enforcement to protect innocent lives when protests turn violent.  

Two bills the CCC was in an “Amend” position that passed  

SB 21-073 Civil Action Statute of Limitations Sexual Assault – Enacted  
With the enactment of SB 073, the statute of limitations on bringing a civil claim based on sexual misconduct will be removed as of January 1, 2022. Under this law, victims of sexual abuse can pursue a civil cause of action if the statute of limitations has not expired, the abuse happened in Colorado, and the abuse could be considered a felony or Class 1 misdemeanor if it was a criminal case. 

SB 21-088 Child Sexual Abuse Accountability Act– Passed  
If enacted, SB 88 will allow victims of childhood sexual abuse to sue public and private institutions for abuse that occurred between 1960-2022. Victims would have three years to bring a historical claim, starting from January 1, 2022. Claims brought during this window would be capped at $387,000 for public institutions and at $500,000 for private institutions, with the ability of a judge to double the damages depending on how the private institution handled the situation. Despite unanswered constitutional concerns regarding SB 88, the Colorado Catholic dioceses will also continue to offer opportunities for survivors of childhood sexual abuse to receive support in a non-litigious setting.   

While the legislature has adjourned the 2021 legislative session, there is still the possibility that they will reconvene later this year. To stay up-to-date on Colorado legislative issues and their impact on the Catholic Church in Colorado, be sure to sign up for the CCC legislative network HERE.