Saturday, October 27, 2007

An Irish Halloween

Halloween was invented by the Irish, more or less, although they did not usually wear costumes (too poor, I suppose.) The picture above was painted by Irish artist Daniel Maclise in 1833, inspired by a typical Irish Halloween party. (It rather reminds me of one of the gatherings of my extended family. Some things never change.) Here is the caption which accompanied the painting:

There Peggy was dancing with Dan
While Maureen the lead was melting,
To prove how their fortunes ran
With the Cards ould Nancy dealt in;
There was Kate, and her sweet-heart Will,
In nuts their true-love burning,
And poor Norah, though smiling still
She'd missed the snap-apple turning.

For the ancient Celts, November 1 was Samhain, their New Year's day. It is not necessary to detail some of the more gruesome pagan customs which accompanied the festivities in pre-Christian times, customs which eventually disappeared as the Faith spread and took hold. Nevertheless, on a more positive note, the Celts believed that on the day in question the veil between the worlds grew thin, and one could easily pass from world to world, from time into eternity.

As Christians, in celebrating the Solemnity of All Saints, the sacred liturgy permits us to glimpse the place where the blessed ones dwell in light. We are led to think of all the dead, of the awe-inspiring realties of death, judgment, heaven and hell. On All Souls' Day we recall those who are still undergoing purgation in the realm beyond time. We, too, through the Mass and through prayer, pass from world to world, for all is present to God.

Here is an article (via A Conservative Blog for Peace) which elucidates on the history of All Hallows' Eve, the pagan vs Christian aspects and how the Irish and the French brought it all to North America. To quote:
Halloween can still serve the purpose of reminding us about Hell and how to avoid it. Halloween is also a day to prepare us to remember those who have gone before us in Faith, those already in Heaven and those still suffering in Purgatory. The next time someone claims Halloween is a cruel trick to lure our children into devil worship, I suggest you tell them the real origin of Halloween and let them know about its Catholic roots and significance. (By Fr Scott Archer)

Catholic parents who are not comfortable with the worst secular aspects of Halloween can avail themselves of alternative activities on that day: family prayer and fasting for the Vigil of All Saints Day, visitations of houses in the garments of non-devilish personae, the reading aloud of stories of the Saints or of seasonal literature such as Edgar Allen Poe's "The Masque of the Red Death" and Washington Irving's "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow", and the playing of seasonal music such as Saint-Saens' "Danse Macabre", Modest Moussorgsky's "Night on Bald Mountain" and Sergei Rachmaninoff's "Isle of the Dead."

A word of caution, however. The Church has always condemned as sins against the First Commandment, and thus cautioned her children to stay far away from: astrology, charms, divination, fortune-telling, magic, the ouija boards, sorcery, spells, witchcraft, and other occult activities, even if they are treated in a trivial or jesting fashion.

St Thomas Aquinas says that it is not permitted to Christians even to dabble in such things: "Man has not been entrusted with power over the demons to employ them to whatsoever purpose he will. On the contrary, it is appointed that he should wage war against the demons. Hence, in no way is it lawful for man to make use of the demons' help by compacts -- either tacit or express" (II- II, Q96, Art. 3).


Anonymous said...

I believe it. The Irish are always teetering between woeful thoughts and partying.

elena maria vidal said...

Ha, ha, isn't that the truth....

Anonymous said...

I posted an article about halloween on my site and received several interesting comments. See

elena maria vidal said...

Sorry, Robin, but I am a Roman Catholic. My Irish Catholic ancestors were systematically persecuted and starved by the Protestants for refusing to relinquish their Holy Catholic Apostolic faith. If All Hallow's Eve was harmless fun to them, than it is to me, too. I am not and never have been a Protestant, sorry, and so am not impressed by your arguments. I hope you can join with the universal Church in celebrating All Saints'Day, even if you do not like Halloween.

elena maria vidal said...

And furthermore, I went "Trick-or-Treating" every Halloween of my life when I was a child and so did my brothers and sisters. None of us ever dabbled in witchcraft or became pagans as a result. I have never even read Harry Potter....

Enbrethiliel said...


When I lived in New Zealand, I was appalled to learn that a Catholic school in Auckland had banned Halloween for being too demonic. =S

Well, in "godless" New Zealand, perhaps it is: in another post, Elena, you observe that the holiday has slowly become grotesque, morbid and ugly. A culture that has forgotten--or is actively discounting--the Catholic baptism of a pagan holiday is bound to be left with only the darker aspects of the celebration, and none of the good parts that made it worth preserving in the first place. Why the school could not have taken Halloween back and reasserted tradition, I do not know.

The universal Church you mention in your first reply to Robin is not just all the Christians alive in the world today, but all the Christians of the past 2000 years. That's a powerful statement fron tradition in favour of celebrating both All Hallows Day and All Hallows Eve! It may not satisfy Robin, but I felt it should have been enough for the school in Auckland . . . =(

elena maria vidal said...

Our other holy days are being paganized, too, but as you say it does not mean we should dump them, but take them back.