All Hallow's Eve

Halloween is All-Hallows'-Eve which is the night-before-All-Saints'- Day. The name derives from the Old English 'hallowed' meaning holy or sanctified and is now usually contracted to the more familiar word Hallowe'en.

During all the Christian centuries up until the simplification of the Church calendar in 1956, it was a liturgical vigil in its own right and thus has a reason for being.

It was in the eighth century that the Church appointed a special date for the feast of All Saints, followed by a day in honor of her soon-to-be saints, the feast of All Souls. In the 8th century, on November 1st, Pope Gregory III dedicated a chapel to all the saints in St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. Gregory IV then made the festival universal throughout the Church, and November 1st has subsequently become All Saints' Day for the western Church. She chose this time of year, it is supposed, because in her part of the world it was the time of barrenness on the earth. The harvest was in, the summer done, the world brown and drab and mindful of death. Snow had not yet descended to comfort and hide the bony trees or blackened fields; so with little effort man could look about and see a meditation on death and life hereafter.

It was in Ireland and Scotland and England that All Hallows' Eve became a combination of prayer and merriment. Following the break with the Holy See, Queen Elizabeth forbade all observances connected with All Souls' Day. In spite of her laws, however, customs survived; even Shakespeare in his Two Gentlemen of Verona has Speed tell Valentine that he knows he is in love because he has learned to speak "puling like a beggar at Hallowmas." This line must have escaped the Queen.

Begging at the door grew from an ancient English custom of knocking at doors to beg for a "soul cake" in return for which the beggars promised to pray for the dead of the household. Soul cakes, a form of shortbread — and sometimes quite fancy, with currants for eyes — became more important for the beggars than prayers for the dead, it is said. Florence Berger tells in her Cooking for Christ a legend of a zealous cook who vowed she would invent soul cakes to remind them of eternity at every bite. So she cut a hole in the middle and dropped it in hot fat, and lo — a doughnut. Circle that it is, it suggests the never-ending of eternity. Truth or legend, it serves a good purpose at Halloween.

The refrains sung at the door varied from "a soul cake, a soul cake, have mercy on all Christian souls for a soul cake," to the later:

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.

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It is widely accepted that the early church missionaries chose to hold a festival at this time of year in order to absorb existing native Pagan practices into Christianity, thereby smoothing the conversion process.

A letter Pope Gregory I sent to Bishop Mellitus in the 6th century, in which he suggested that existing places of non-Christian worship be adopted and consecrated to serve a Christian purpose, is often provided as supporting evidence of this method of acculturation

However, there are supporters of the view that Hallowe'en, as the eve of All Saints' Day, originated entirely independently of Samhain and some question the existence of a specific pan-Celtic religious festival which took place on 31 October/1 November.


Festivals commemorating the saints as opposed to the original Christian martyrs appear to have been observed by 800. In England and Germany, this celebration took place on 1 November. In Ireland, it was commemorated on 20 April, a chronology that contradicts the widely held view that the November date was chosen to Christianize the festival of Samhain.

Nicholas Rogers, Halloween: From Pagan Ritual to Party Night

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