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Hallowe’en, All Hallows’ Eve, is essentially a celebration of death and remembrance. In the modern Christian calendar, the day after Hallowe’en is “All Saints Day”, on which the departed Saints are remembered, and the day after that is “All Souls Day”, on which prayers are said for the souls of all departed Christians.
“All Saints Day” was originally “All Martyrs Day”: In the early Church, the death of a martyr was remembered by an all night vigil the night before the anniversary, and thus Hallowe’en became an important night on which all the faithful were expected to stay up all night praying. Later, the day became the celebration of all saints, rather than just martyred ones, but the vigil remained important.
In the 9th century, All Saints Day was deliberately moved (in the West) from the Easter season to co-incide with “Samhain” (possible original pronunciation: “Sa – Wane”), the existing pagan festival of the dead.

Shrine Backdrop 2003
Shrine backdrop at night
Hallowe’en 2003
Samhain was the most important of the festivals of the Celtic peoples, and it survived in some form through the Roman occupation and the Saxon invasion. Samhain was a week-long festival of games and ceremonies, marking the end of one year and the beginning of the next. The Celts saw in the Autumn season an allegory for death, so the festival became a time of celebrating the dead. The small number of historical records (written by Roman contemporaries) inform us that the souls of the ancestors were summoned at the start of the week to join in the festivities, and were dismissed again at the end.
It was a time for making peace with the past, honouring the achievements of departed heroes, as well as a time of looking forward to a prosperous future. Samhain was seen as an auspicious time to make and renew contracts and allegiances, as well as a good time to get married. Criminals and traitors were executed at this festival, almost certainly in a ritualistic fashion … though opinion is divided as to whether this amounted to ‘human sacrifice’.
Over the last century, Hallowe’en has become progressively more morbid, obsessed with demons, ghosts and monsters. As death has become more and more of a taboo subject in the West, so the positive aspects of death (remembrance, honour, renewal, and the possibility of resurrection) have been forgotten in the popular culture surrounding Hallowe’en … to the extent that many modern Christians dismiss Hallowe’en as a time of evil, rather than a time of reflection and hope.
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