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', called "All Souls' Day," 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:
||unofficially, per folk custom,
recalls the souls of the damned. Practices center around recognizing and remembering the reality of
Hell and how to avoid it.
||set aside to officially
honor the Church Triumphant (the souls in Heaven). Practices center around recalling our
great Saints, including those whose names are unknown to us and, so,
are not canonized
||set aside officially
to pray for the Church Suffering (the souls in Purgatory). Practices
center around praying for the souls in Purgatory, especially our loved
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 Latin Church.
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. 1
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 (such as the use of holly to decorate) 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 miseducated Catholics, objecting to the definite secularization of
the holiday and falling for the myth that the entire thing is "pagan" to begin
with, refuse to celebrate it in any way at all, etc. Other
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 differently.
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 America.
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 then
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
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
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
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
"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.
Doughnuts (makes 20)
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 aside.
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).
Nowadays, trick-or-treating typically results in being given candy.
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 (2 pages)
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 pages)
The Masque of the Red Death,
by Edgar Allan Poe (5 pages)
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! He can tempt, obssess, and oppress us, but Satan has no ultimate 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 the Evil One's snares. Warn them that magic (the art
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 afraid, etc.
Remember! If you made apple dolls on Michaelmas, now is the
perfect day to unveil and decorate them. They tend to look a little spooky!
And please pray to all the Saints that they might intercede and bring
pagans, witches, and Satanists 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 laity.