Happy All Hallows Eve! If that looks a little weird to you, it may be that you have seen it more often as Happy Halloween. In fact, both are referring to the same thing.
The word Halloween actually comes from the words All Hallows Eve. Just like Christmas Eve is the night before Christmas, All Hallow’s Eve is the night before All Hallow’s Day.
The word hallowed means to be holy or to be a saint. Thus, this holiday, in modern terms, would be called “All Saints Day.” Many churches celebrate All Saints Day Nov. 1.
A celebration of All Saint’s Day actually started multiple times, on multiple days. In the early days of the church, each saint was celebrated on the day of their victory into heaven (the day they died).
During persecutions, it was hard to keep track of when each saint was martyred, so various churches and territories set up a day to celebrate all of those saints whose death days they did not know, and sometimes whose names they did not know. These became All Saints and All Martyr day celebrations; however they were on different dates in each location.
In 609 or 610, Pope Boniface IV declared the very first church-wide celebration of all martyrs when he dedicated the Pantheon in Rome to the Blessed Virgin and all the martyrs. Then, in 731, Pope Gregory moved the day to Nov. 1 and made it more inclusive by adding all of the saints to the list of those celebrated.
Maybe you never realized that such a secular holiday was based on such a holy celebration. In our rite for All Saints Day, we actually think about all those saints who have died during the previous year, and dwell on death (with our eyes towards the resurrection). Halloween, then, has the same basic focus as All Saints Day thinking about death.
Now, many will correctly point out that this coincides with the Celtic holiday of Samhain, which, itself, is a harvest festival that focuses on the dead. It is possible that All Saints Day was a tool for ministry that allowed missionaries and priests to tell God’s story in a time when the culture was thinking already about death and the beyond. In some times and places, people have actually dressed up as saints who have passed from this world.
Of course, it is also possible that during the time of fall, when you see another winter coming, people in the Northern Hemisphere naturally start thinking about death because of the cycle of the seasons. Either as a ministry opportunity or fitting the season, each year I try to remember the saints in this season and am thankful for their lives, missions, and rewards.
So, if you see me on the 31st, I may greet you with a “Happy All Hallow’s Eve.” Of course, if you wish me a Happy Halloween, I will know what you mean.
I encourage you to visit a cemetery of your choice the next day, and give a prayer of thanks for all those saints who have gone to their eternal triumph.