Hallowe’en; All Saints; All Souls

How long has the tradition of Hallowe’en been around and why did it begin? Perhaps it started with the pagan festival of Samhain (one of the four major festivals in the Celtic Calendar – 1st February: Imbolc; 1st May: Bealtaine; 1st August: Lughnasa; 1st November: Samhain).

Festival of Samhain

Festival of Samhain

The festival of Samhain is a celebration of the end of the harvest season. The Celts were avid followers of nature and the cycle of life. They observed that in October plants died animals disappeared, days grew shorter and nights grew longer. Samhain was a time used by ancient pagans to take stock of supplies and prepare for winter. The ancient Gaels believed that on October 31, the boundaries between the worlds of the living and the dead overlapped and the deceased would come back to life and cause havoc such as sickness or damaged crops.

On October 31 and November 1st every year they would try to pacify Samhain (the god of death) with food and also scare him off with bonfires (bone-fires: kindled from skeletons of sacrificed animals). They carved lanterns out of turnips. Masks and costumes were worn in an attempt to mimic the evil spirits or appease them.

How is this connected with Christianity? When Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire, deliberate efforts were made to announce its victory over paganism. This was done by replacing pagan symbols, places and feasts with Christian ones. In the ninth century, the Church officially designated November 1st as All Saints’ Day, a celebration commemorating all the saints (people who we are sure are in heaven). The night before became known as All Hallows’ Evening (Hallowe’en for short), a holy vigil to draw attention to the following day.

Over time, different cultures have added to the evolution of Hallowe’en. Medieval beggars knocked on doors for ‘soul cakes’ in exchange for prayers for the household’s deceased members. Costumes became a way for people to participate in pageant form in the story of life, death and what happens hereafter. Brought across the world by Irish emigrants, the feast eventually lost any religious significance and became a purely secular event.

All Saints' Day

All Saints’ Day

What about November 1st? This is All Saint’s Day and is a holy day of obligation – Catholics should attend Mass on this day. It celebrates the lives of all Christians who have died in a state of grace.

But what is a saint? Saints, broadly speaking, are those who follow Jesus and live their lives according to his teaching. Catholics, however, also use the term narrowly to refer to holy men and women who, through extraordinary lives of virtue, have already entered Heaven. St. Paul often addressed his letters to ‘the saints’ of a particular place. The assumption was that those who followed Christ had been so transformed, that they were now different from other men and women and should be considered holy. Soon, however, the meaning began to change. As Christianity began to spread, it became clear that some people lived lives of heroic virtue while others struggled to live out the Gospel of Christ. The word ‘saint’ took on the narrower meaning of those who easily practised the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity.

Why is November 2nd significant in the Catholic Church? This day is called All Souls’ Day and it commemorates all those who have died and are now in Purgatory being cleansed of their venial sin and atoning before fully entering Heaven. Praying for the dead is a Christian obligation. The Church devotes the month of November to prayer for the Holy Souls in Purgatory.

The triduum of Hallowe’en, All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day may have its roots in a Celtic pagan festival, but today the last two have a richly Catholic significance with the first being a reminder of the holy days that follow.

All Souls' Day

All Souls’ Day


Remembering Our Dead

All Saints Day (November 1) and All Souls Day (November 2) are annual reminders to remember, honor, and celebrate the dead. Today these ancient observances are overshadowed by Halloween. However, the ritual of consciously remembering loved ones who have passed is an important spiritual practice in all our lives. It brings death into the context of our daily experience and reminds us that dying is not the end.

The community of Gormanston College – students, families, staff, and all connected with the school hold close to their heart a dear friend, wonderful student, beloved family member who passed away during the summer. November gives us a chance to remember the joy of Cian Maloney and to pray for the repose of his soul and for the comfort of his family, his friends, his teachers who miss him deeply.

Many religions and cultures remember the dead on the anniversary of the death. Since that date may bring back painful memories of a passing, some prefer to remember their departed loved ones in November or on their birthdays. Here are some of the practices that could be meaningful.

Light a candle.We can choose a candle in a colour that reminds us of the person. As we light it, we say a prayer of thanks to God for our memories of this loved one. During the day, as we look up from our work at the flickering flame, we recall the blessing this person was in our lives.

Make a donation.One way to signal that you still feel connected to someone who has died is to make a donation to a cause he or she supported. You give money to a church, school, local service organization, or favourite charity.

Find something to remember them by.The inspiration for this practice comes from the Bible account of Jesus’ disciples on the road to Emmaus. They were joined by a stranger whom they did not recognize as Jesus until they stopped to eat and he broke the bread for their meal. They knew him in that act; it was something he had given them earlier to remember him by. So for a close loved one, there may be an act, a saying, a song, a place, an object that helps us to remember that person.

When we think back on our relationships with people who have died, we can find something to remember each of them by. Other common triggers to memory are a favorite song, a particular recipe, a certain type of weather, a special fragrance, a piece of jewelry. Each creates a feeling of connection beyond the grave.

This year on All Saints Day and All Souls Day, and during the month of November, make a list of your departed loved ones and find one act, one object, one gift that can be your remembrance for each of them as you go about your daily life in the year ahead. This simple spiritual practice becomes an expression of gratitude, wonder, and your continuing love.

May their souls and the souls of all the faithful departed, rest in peace. Amen.

Remembering the Dead – Prayer Service

In order to remember those souls of those who have passed, the College is having a prayer service on Monday 14th November at 6.45pm in the College Chapel. We will pray in particular for those who had any connection to the College – such as members of the Franciscan Community, teachers, students from past times, as well as relatives and friends of current students, teachers and other staff members. Our College Chaplain, Fr Brendan, has been gathering lists of names from students and staff members who would like someone to have a special mention. All are invited to be present.

May the souls of all the faithful departed rest in peace.

The Month of November

November is a month when Catholics remember the dead. —In the ninth century, the Church officially designated Nov 1st  as All Saints’ Day – a celebration commemorating all saints (people who we are sure are in heaven). It is a holy day of obligation so Catholics attend Mass on this day.

November 2nd is All Souls’ Day. On this day we commemorate all those who have died and are now in Purgatory being cleansed of their venial sin and atoning before fully entering Heaven.

Praying for the dead is a Christian obligation. The Church devotes the month of November to praying for the Holy Souls in Purgatory.