Is Halloween a Christian Holiday?

Q. Is Halloween a pagan or a Christian holiday?

A. In terms of its origins, Halloween is both pagan and Christian. In terms of its practice, that depends on who’s celebrating.

Before the coming of the Christian faith to Celtic lands (the British Isles and Brittany), a pagan feast that seems to have been associated with the harvest and New Year’s Eve on the Celtic calendar took place on the night of October 31. In the Druid religion (practiced by the Celts), the night of October 31 was considered a time when the lord of death, named Samhain, allowed the souls of the dead to roam. (Some scholars, we should note, have disputed some specifics of these historical claims.)

From ancient times, Catholics in various regions at various times of the year celebrated a Feast of All Saints, which honors all the Christian saints in heaven, both known and unknown. After the Christian faith had spread among Celtic peoples, November 1 was eventually established in the West as the Feast of All Saints, so that the night of October 31 came to be observed as the eve of All Saints’ Day. In fact, the name “Halloween” is a contraction of “All Hallows’ Evening.” “Hallows” means “holy ones,” or saints.

As for its current practice, whether the holiday is Christian or pagan depends largely on whether the emphasis is on the demonic and macabre, or on the memory of those who now reign with Our Lord in heaven. Obviously, the secular culture, lacking faith, emphasizes the former, and does so in ways that grow ever more disturbing. But many Christians, Catholic and otherwise, have found ways to observe the day that are both entertaining and spiritually focused. One way to do that is to call the celebration “All Saints’ Eve” and to feature holiday costumes and decorations related to saints, angels, and other holy figures.