31 October and
1 and 2 November are called, colloquially (not officially), "Hallowtide"
or the "Days of the Dead" because on these days we pray for or remember those
who've left this world.
The days of the dead center around All Saints' Day (also known as All Hallows')
on November 1, when we celebrate all the Saints in Heaven. On the day after
All Hallows', we remember the saved souls who are in Purgatory being cleansed
of the temporal effects of their sins before they can enter Heaven. The day
that comes before All Hallows', though, is one on which we unofficially remember
the damned and the reality of Hell. The schema, then, for the Days of the
Dead looks like this:
recalls the souls of the damned. Practices center around the reality of Hell
and how to avoid it.
||set aside to
officially honor the Church Triumphant. Practices center around recalling
our great Saints, including those whose names are unknown to us and, so,
are not canonized
officially to pray for the Church Suffering (the souls in Purgatory).
Practices center around praying for the souls in Purgatory, especially our
The earliest form
of All Saints' (or "All Hallows'") was first celebrated in the 300s, but
originally took place on 13 May, as it still does in some Eastern Churches.
The Feast first commemorated only the martyrs, but came to include all of
the Saints by 741. It was transferred to 1 November in 844 when Pope Gregory
III consecrated a chapel in St. Peter's Basilica to All Saints (so much for
the theory that the day was fixed on 1 November because of a bunch of Irish
pagans had harvest festivals at that time).
All Souls' has its origins in A.D. 1048 when the Bishop of Cluny decreed
that the Benedictines of Cluny pray for the souls in Purgatory on this day.
The practice spread until Pope Sylvester II recommended it for the entire
The Vigil of, or evening before, All Hallows' ("Hallows' Eve," or
"Hallowe'en") came, in Irish popular piety, to be a day of remembering the
dead who are neither in Purgatory or Heaven, but are damned, and these customs
spread to many parts of the world. Thus we have the popular focus
of Hallowe'en as the reality of Hell, hence its scary character and focus
on evil and how to avoid it, the sad fate of the souls of the damned, etc.
How, or even whether, to celebrate Hallowe'en is a controversial topic
in traditional circles. One hears too often that "Hallowe'en is a pagan holiday"
-- an impossibility because "Hallowe'en," as said, means "All Hallows' Evening"
which is as Catholic a holiday as one can get. Some say that the holiday
actually stems from Samhain, a pagan Celtic celebration, or is Satanic, but
this isn't true, either, any more than Christmas "stems from" the Druids'
Yule, though popular customs that predated the Church may be involved in
our celebrations (it is rather amusing that October 31 is also "Reformation
Day" in Protestant circles -- the day to recall Luther's having nailed his
95 Theses to Wittenberg's cathedral door -- but Protestants who reject
"Hallowe'en" because pagans used to do things on October 31 don't object
to commemorating that event on this day).
Some traditional Catholics, objecting to the definite secularization of the
holiday and to the myth that the entire thing is "pagan" to begin with, refuse
to celebrate it in any way at all, etc. Other traditional Catholics celebrate
it without qualm, though keeping it Catholic and staying far away from some
of the ugliness that surrounds the day in the secular world. However one
decides to spend the day, it is hoped that the facts are kept straight, and
that Catholics refrain from judging other Catholics who decide to celebrate
For those who do want to celebrate Hallowe'en, customs of this day are a
mixture of Catholic popular devotions, and French, Irish, and English customs
all mixed together. From the French we get the custom of dressing up, which
originated during the time of the Black Death when artistic renderings of
the dead known as the "Danse Macabre," were popular. These "Dances of Death"
were also acted out by people who dressed as the dead. Later, these practices
were moved to Hallowe'en when the Irish and French began to intermarry in
From the Irish come the carved Jack-o-lanterns, which were originally carved
turnips. The legend surrounding the Jack-o-Lantern is this:
There once was
an old drunken trickster named Jack, a man known so much for his miserly
ways that he was known as "Stingy Jack," He loved making mischief on everyone
-- even his own family, even the Devil himself! One day, he tricked Satan
into climbing up an apple tree -- but
carved Crosses on the trunk so the Devil couldn't get back down. He bargained
with the Evil One, saying he would remove the Crosses only if the Devil would
promise not to take his soul to Hell; to this, the Devil agreed.
After Jack died, after many years filled with vice, he went up to the Pearly
Gates -- but was told by St. Peter that he was too miserable a creature to
see the Face of Almighty God. But when he went to the Gates of Hell, he was
reminded that he couldn't enter there, either! So, he was doomed to spend
his eternity roaming the earth. The only good thing that happened to him
was that the Devil threw him an ember from the burning pits to light his
way, an ember he carried inside a hollowed-out, carved turnip.
And when you carve
up your pumpkin, keep the seeds to roast! Here's a recipe:
2 cups pumpkin seeds (approx.)
2 TSP melted butter or oil (approx.)
Salt to taste
Optional: garlic powder; cayenne pepper; seasoned salt; Worcestershire Sauce;
Cajun seasoning; or Hot Spice Mix (1/2 tsp. Tabasco sauce, 1 tsp. cayenne
pepper, 1/2 tsp. cumin, 2 tsp. chili powder)
Preheat oven to 300° F. Toss pumpkin seeds in a bowl with the melted
butter or oil and any optional ingredients of your choice. Spread pumpkin
seeds in a single layer on baking sheet. Bake for about 45 minutes, stirring
occasionally, until golden brown and crispy. Store airtight.
Option: If you roast them without any of the above optional flavorings, you
can now flavor them Spicy-Sweet by doing this:
Heat a TBSP of peanut oil in a skillet, add 2 TBSP sugar, and the seeds.
Cook the pumpkin seeds over medium high heat for about 1 minute or until
the sugar melts and starts to caramelize. Place pumpkin seeds in a large
bowl and sprinkle with this mixture: 3 TBSP sugar, 1/4 tsp. salt, 1/4 tsp.
cinnamon, 1/4 tsp. ginger, and a pinch of ground cayenne pepper.
From the English
Catholics we get begging from door to door, the earlier and more pure form
of "trick-or-treating." Children would go about begging their neighbors for
a "Soul Cake," for which they would say a prayer for those neighbors' dead.
Instead of knocking on a door and saying the threatening, "Trick-or-treat"
(or the ugly "Trick-or-treat, smell my feet, give me something good to eat"),
children would say either:
A Soul Cake, a
have mercy on all Christian souls for a soul cake!
Soul, soul, an
apple or two,
If you haven't an apple, a pear will do,
One for Peter, two for Paul,
Three for the Man Who made us all.
While Soul Cakes
were originally a type of shortbread, it is said that a clever medieval cook
wanted to make Soul Cakes designed to remind people of eternity, so she cut
a hole in the middle of round cakes before frying them, thereby inventing
donuts! Fresh plain cake donuts would be a nice food to eat on this day.
2 quarts canola oil
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1/4 cup sour cream
1 1/4 cups cake flour (not self-rising)
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp coarse salt
1 1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1 packet active dry yeast or 0.6 ounces cake yeast
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons nonfat buttermilk
1 extra-large whole egg
2 extra-large egg yolks
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups nonmelting or confectioners' sugar
1. Heat oil in a low-sided six-quart saucepan over medium-high heat until
a deep-frying thermometer registers 375°. Lightly dust a baking pan
with all-purpose flour, and line a second one with paper towels; set both
2. Meanwhile, place sour cream in a heat-proof bowl or top of a double boiler;
set over a pan of simmering water. Heat until warm to the touch. Remove from
heat; set aside.
3. In a large bowl, sift together all-purpose flour, cake flour, granulated
sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and nutmeg. Make a large well; place
yeast in center. Pour warm sour cream over yeast, and let sit 1 minute.
4. Place buttermilk, whole egg, egg yolks, and vanilla in a medium bowl;
whisk to combine. Pour egg mixture over sour cream. Using a wooden spoon,
gradually draw flour mixture into egg mixture, stirring until smooth before
drawing in more flour. Continue until all flour mixture has been incorporated;
dough will be very sticky.
5. Sift a heavy coat of flour onto a clean work surface. Turn out dough.
Sift another heavy layer of flour over dough. Using your hands, pat dough
until it is 1/2 inch thick. Using a 2 3/4-inch doughnut cutter, cut out doughnuts
as close together as possible, dipping the cutter in flour before each cut.
Transfer doughnuts to floured pan, and let rest 10 minutes, but not more.
6. Carefully transfer four doughnuts to hot oil. Cook until golden, about
2 minutes. Turn over; continue cooking until evenly browned on both sides,
about 2 minutes more. Using a slotted spoon, transfer doughnuts to lined
pan. Repeat with remaining doughnuts.
7. Gather remaining dough scraps into a ball. Let rest 10 minutes; pat into
a 1/2-inch-thick rectangle. Cut, let rest 10 minutes, and cook.
8. When cool enough to handle, sift nonmelting sugar over tops; serve
immediately. (Recipe from Martha Stewart).
foods for All Hallows' Eve include cider, nuts, popcorn, and apples -- best
eaten around a bonfire or fireplace!
Another Hallowe'en custom is the old Celtic "bobbing for apples." To do this,
fill a large tub two thirds full with water and float apples in it. Children
take turns trying to pick up one of the floating apples using only their
mouths (hands are not allowed and must be held or tied behind the back!)
-- very tricky to do! The first to do so wins a prize (some say he will be
the first one to marry someday). You can make the game more fun by carving
an initial into the bottom of each apple, letting that initial indicate the
name of the person each apple-bobber will marry, and/or using different colored
apples with different assigned meanings or prizes. (You can play a dry version
of this game by tying the stems of the apples to strings and suspending them.
If you do this, carve any initials at the tops of the apples. Of course,
all of this sort of thing is a parlor game and should never be taken seriously
or cross the line into divination!).
...and tell scary stories! If you want the perfect poems to relate
to your children on this day, see Little
Orphant Annie, The Raven,
The Stolen Child, and the
Wreck of the Hesperus. And here are those
poems and some stories for you to download in Microsoft Word .doc format:
Orphant Annie by James Whitcomb Riley (2 pages)
The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe (3 pages)
The Stolen Child by William Butler Yeats
The Wreck of the Hesperus by Henry
Wordsworth Longfellow (3 pages)
The Monkey's Paw, by W. W. Jacobs (11 pages)
The Lottery, by Shirley Jackson (5 pages)
The Tell Tale Heart, by Edgar Allan Poe (4 pages)
The Cask of Amontillado, by Edgar Allan Poe (7
The Masque of the Red Death, by Edgar Allan Poe (5
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, by Washington
Irving (22 pages)
your children about the frightening realities of Hell and the fate of the
damned, reassure them by telling them that the Evil One has already been
conquered! Satan has no real power over those who are in Christ, and mocking
him and his minions is a way of demonstrating this; teach your children how
to call on the power of Christ and His Church to protect themselves from
their snares. Warn them that magic (the art of performing actions beyond
the power of man with the aid of powers other than the Divine) is real,
that there is no such thing as "white magic," that playing with the occult
-- whether by divination, necromancy, the casting of spells, playing with
Ouija boards, etc. -- is an invitation to demons to respond, and that it
is from demons that magic gets any power it has. Remember St. Michael
to them, teach them about the power of sacramentals and prayers that ward
off evil when piously used (the Sign of the Cross,
Holy Water, blessed salt,
the Crucifix, the
St. Benedict Medal,
St. Anthony's Brief, etc.), teach them
to call on the Holy Name of Jesus when they are
And please pray to all the Saints that they might intercede and bring pagans
and witches to Christ so they might know the peace that comes from knowing
that God loves them so much that He allowed Himself to take on a human nature,
to suffer, and to die for them...
1 The Vigil used to be a day of fasting in the
Church so some Catholics -- especially those attached to the disciplines
in place related to earlier Missals than the 1962 -- treat the day as penitential
and avoid any feasting. But All Hallows' Eve was not considered a day of
fasting according to the laws in place when the 1962 Missal was published,
and it is this Missal that is used by most traditional Catholic priests and