Halloween and things that go bump in the night.....
The amount of Halloween paraphernalia in the shops is beyond belief. Stores have given over whole sections of floor space devoted to ghost and ghouls and the most grotesque of face masks and costumes. Weíve come a long way since my childhood when a sixpenny mask and a bedsheet were about the height of the dressing up, and a few monkey nuts, a bowl of fruit and of course the Barn Brack with the ring made up the feast. I suspect the modern celebration has more to do with canny shopkeepers out to find another excuse for making a profit than any other reason.
So what is Halloween all about anyway? Well it occurs on the eve of all Saints or All Hallows as it used to be styled, the word Halloween is simply an older term for ĎAll Hallows Eveí, the eve of all the hallowed (holy). It does seem to have been mixed up with a much earlier pre-christian Celtic festival known as Samhain. It seems that at Samhain it was believed that the Spirits of the dead, including ghosts, goblins and witches mingled with the living and so the custom of wearing masks and lighting fires grew up as a means of keeping them at bay. The modern day hollowed out Pumpkin began its evolution as a humble Turnip in this part of the world and became a Pumpkin when emigrants brought the traditions to the US. When the Romans invaded Britain some of their customs and traditions involving the apples and nuts became mixed up in the Samhain celebration and later in our present day Halloween festivities.
It is of course harmless fun that sees children dressed as ghosts and ghoulies and it appeals to the child in all of us, but it would be a pity if the Christian significance of the feast was lost under a sea of Chinese imported tat. November has been for many centuries the month of prayer for the departed. Following on the heels of All Saints day on November 1st comes the Feast of All Souls on November 2nd, a recognition of the fact that our prayers can help those who have gone before us and have not yet entered the Lordís presence. The Catholic doctrine of Purgatory is a hopeful doctrine that recognises the presence of sin in the individual, sin that can hold us back from entering the Lordís presence until its effects have been purged from the soul.
Catechism of the Catholic Church: No. 1030: All who die in Godís grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.
So by all means trick or treat and dress up, enjoy the carnival of it all but give a thought to the origin of the celebration and more importantly offer a prayer for the departed. Happy Halloween! (Whatever that means!)
Fr. Philip Curran