Halloween is the modern-day interpretation of All Hollow’s Eve, the Vigil of All Saint’s Day. Historically, this is a day for people to remember those who have passed on and are now in Heaven, and to pray for those in Hell or Purgatory. The imagery of ghosts, ghouls, and other deathly images was meant to remind people of their mortality and to do well with the time we are given on this Earth. In the past, people would give out homemade cakes on All Hollow’s Eve on October 31st, as All Saint’s Day on November 1st was meant to be a feast in remembrance of saints who had passed on and all the work they did while they were alive. There was concern that the spirits in Hell might feel forgotten and cause trouble if they were not remembered as well. Therefore, the practice of chanting and wearing costumes or masks came out of this practice as well.
Those are some of the more Catholic and Christian origins of Halloween, which have merged with commercialization to produce the practices known today of children parading around while dressed as their favorite characters and asking for free candy. Neopagans also celebrate the day and often try to claim Halloween is about worshipping devils, demons, or other unsavory characters. Despite these things, I still love Halloween and love it even more knowing the wholesome meaning behind it. I also have fond memories of the holiday as a child, as it brought me, my siblings and friends, and other members of the community together in ways many other holidays did not. For most holidays, we spent the time together with family, and did not always have contact with the broader community or with friends. Halloween brought everyone together though.
As a child, me, my siblings, and several close friends would get together at the biggest house to use as a staging area for our trick-or-treating expedition. We would come with costumes to dress up as our favorite characters and cover ourselves in layers to try and stay warm later into the evening. Then, after receiving instructions from our parents to stick to the path we walked with them when we were younger and they accompanied us; as well as to stick together and watch out for one another; we set out to try and get as much candy as we could before the sun went down.
Me, my brother, and some of our of friends were all martial artists and boy scouts, and we were armed with knives that we had some minimal training with. While I doubt we could have handled any professional attackers, we certainly could have deterred any untrained thugs with four members of our party armed and minimally trained. Plus, we lived in a pretty safe neighborhood anyway and never ran into any trouble. As such, we felt confident we could work together to fend off an attacker should one threaten us or our other companions who were untrained and unarmed. It was also somewhat exciting to be going out on our own for the first time with no one but our fellow peers to rely upon should anything go wrong. Even if we were just walking around a few blocks, it felt like a big adventure as a kid.
When we got back home, we all dumped our candy out in a massive pile and sorted it out. We gave everyone as much of their favorite candy as we could, and we made sure to categorize our own stockpiles according to which candy would go bad first. We wanted to make sure our loot lasted us as long into the next year as possible, since our parents would always tell us, “you don’t need candy. You’ll get candy on Halloween.” We learned to be patient and to ration our resources when we had them. We strategized about where to go and what houses gave out the most candy from our experience. We also tried to move fast and hit as many houses as possible. We got familiar with the layout of the neighborhood and agreed upon a path we felt was most efficient. No one told us to do these things, but the motivation to acquire as much candy as possible prompted us to do it of our own accord. Halloween was like our own little mission as kids, and it brought me and my peers together to make us a team in a way no other holiday did. In fact, on most other holidays, I never saw my friends as they were off somewhere with their families.
Now, I love all the holidays that bring families together which would otherwise be apart. That time spent together is a blessing. However, Halloween has always had a special place in my heart for how it stood out amongst the other holidays and brought me and my peers together in ways no other holiday ever could. Now, I am fortunate to be able to sit back and hand out candy to young kids doing the same on Halloween, as adults did for me when I was growing up. It is great to see them getting that same experience I was blessed with as a child.
I also have a newfound appreciation for Halloween knowing it origins with All Hollow’s Eve. It makes it feel even more special knowing this is a day to remember those who have passed on, and to remind us of our own mortality. Since we only have a short time on this Earth, we should make it the best we can. Halloween reminds us of that with the scary and deathly costumes we see passing by. It is a solemn, but humbling thought which brings even more meaning to the day.
For more on the different origins of Halloween, check out some these articles:
The Catholic Origins of Halloween
The surprisingly Catholic origins of Halloween
The Catholic roots of Halloween, the Vigil of All Saint’s Day
Happy Halloween, everyone!
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