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Resources to help you observe the day from a Catholic perspective
Official Website of the
Catholic Diocese of Little Rock
Updated Oct. 25, 2023
Did you know trick-or-treating is Catholic in origin? That is also true for dressing up in costumes and making a jack-o-lantern. If this surprises you, you are not alone. The practice of Halloween has been separated from its Christian roots in the modern world. As a result, many seem obsessed with zombies, vampires, ghosts and the occult. It is especially bad this time of year when we are inundated with disturbing images of darkness and death, leaving Christians to worry if it is wrong to participate in Halloween. | Should Catholics celebrate Halloween?
Halloween, as understood by Catholics, puts the realities violence, horror and death "within the context of Christ’s victory over sin, death and the devil. The current secularized version of the festival has no salvific content and has been loosed from its theological moorings. It looks very much like a festival of death for a culture of death," according to Father Steve Grunow, CEO of Word on Fire, in his article, "It’s Time for Catholics to Embrace Halloween."
Halloween comes from two different feast days in the Catholic Church: All Saints Day on Nov. 1 and All Souls Day on Nov. 2. The word, "Halloween" or "All Hallows Eve," comes from the vigil of All Hallows Day, now known as All Saints Day. On this day, we remember all those who have died and gone to heaven. This includes all saints, not just those who are known to us (those canonized by the Church).
On All Souls Day we remember and pray for all those who have died and are in purgatory. Souls in purgatory "have not yet been purified" in order to enter heaven. Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), a tradition that originated in Mexico, combines the religious aspects of All Saints and All Souls days with cultural traditions of honoring the dead. It is considered a national holiday and is celebrated from midnight Oct. 31 to Nov. 2 with the custom of "building private altars at the tomb of loved ones where families can bring the deceased person’s favorite foods, drinks, flowers and mementos." A common symbol is the skull, which symbolizes death and rebirth. | Should Catholics celebrate Day of Dead?
In "A Good Catholic's Guide to Halloween," Genevieve Netherton explains the Catholic origins of the traditional customs of Halloween. In medieval times Catholic churches often displayed the bones and relics of their saints on Halloween for public veneration. And Catholic immigrants from Europe brought a variety of traditions with them to America. "Dressing up for Halloween comes from the French; jack-o-lanterns come from the Irish, who originally carved turnips; the English begged from door to door for 'soul cakes,' promising to pray for the departed loved ones of those who gave them these treats, this being the origin of trick-or-treating. These traditions converged in the big American 'melting pot' and eventually became popular nationwide activities for Halloween." | Soul Cakes: The Original Halloween Treat
Separating Halloween from its Catholic roots has taken some down a dangerous path. Concerns about Halloween are valid when it involves the use of Ouija boards, tarot cards, palm readings from psychics, séances or other forms of dabbling in the occult. Catholic teaching is very clear about these practices. "All forms of divination are to be rejected: recourse to Satan or demons, conjuring up the dead or other practices falsely supposed to 'unveil' the future. Consulting horoscopes, astrology, palm reading, interpretation of omens and lots, the phenomena of clairvoyance, and recourse to mediums all conceal a desire for power over time, history, and, in the last analysis, other human beings, as well as a wish to conciliate hidden powers. They contradict the honor, respect, and loving fear that we owe to God alone." — Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 2116 | Divination and Magic in the Bible
You can start by making Mass part of your family's tradition. With a few exceptions, All Saints Day is a holy day of obligation. By attending the vigil Mass for this feast, it is easy to connect All Hallows Eve with All Saints Day. And there are several Catholic websites that offer fun and creative ideas to make Halloween traditions Catholic. These include connecting candy and snacks to saints through an All Saints’ Day Tea Party or All Saints’ Day Goody Bags. What about carving a Cath-O-Lantern or Saint-O-Lantern, or reading saint stories around the campfire? Might we suggest these five spooky saints from Busted Halo? How about saying the Pumpkin Prayer while carving your jack-o-lantern? Making crafts and sweet treats can also be great ways to learn and have fun at the same time. Catholic Icing offers several ideas to celebrate Dia de los Muertos, including making sugar skull rocks and lanterns or sugar skill pizza and marshmallow pops. Catholic Cuisine offers a recipe for soul cakes to help teach the origin of trick-or-treating.
The following offers related articles and other resources that may also help you consider how to observe these events in your home and parish.