The Holiness of Halloween (part 2)

In preparation for All Saints Day (1 Nov) and All Souls Day (2 Nov), we make a small stop on 31 October for All Hallow’s Eve, or Halloween.

In medieval times, one popular All Souls' Day practice was to make "soul cakes,"
simple bread desserts with a currant topping. In a custom called "souling," children
would go door-to-door begging for the cakes, much like modern trick-or-treaters.

For every cake a child collected, he or she would have to say a prayer for the dead
relatives of the person who gave the cake. These prayers would help the relatives
find their way out of purgatory and into heaven. The children even sang a soul cake
song along the lines of the modern "Trick-or-treat, trick-or-treat, give me something
good to eat." One version of the song went: A soul cake! A soul cake! Have mercy on all Christian souls, for a soul cake!

Prior to that when the Celtic people came together, the children would go around house to house collecting firewood (A most valuable commodity) to heap onto the fire that would serve as the center piece of the celebration of Samhain (Sow-en). They would then take coals from the fire to relight their home fires, to show the unity of the community. They would carry these home in a hallowed out turnip, which made a lantern of sorts. These resembled the modern day jack-o’-lantern. The direct descendent of the jack-o’-lantern comes to us from 18th century Ireland, yet still based in Celtic tradition.

There seem to have been a popular figure in tales of the day called Stingy Jack, who on several occasions avoided damnation by tricking the devil himself, and very often this occurred on All Hallow’s Eve. In one of these stories, he convinced Satan to climb up a tree, and then cut crosses all around the trunk, so the devil could not get down. In return for his help down the tree, Satan promised to leave Jack alone forever. So when Stingy Jack dies, he is denied entry into Heaven and true to his word, Satan does not accept him into Hell. Satan tosses a hot coal onto the path to help light the way, and Jack puts this into his hallowed out turnip, carrying it as he wanders the earth. So the lantern of Jack, becomes our jack-o’-lantern.

Later in the 1800s, as the Scotts and Irish brought their Hallow’s Eve celebrations and traditions to North America, the turnips were exchanged for the much more prevalent Pumpkins.

The Evil spirits, Ghouls, Witches and monsters that adorn our current Halloween Traditions, are more ones of commercialism and not based in fact or tradition. The acknowledgment and celebration of our dead was not uncommon throughout history and across religious lines. It is still practiced in many cultures. The sales of such evil images and goods has made Halloween second only to Christmas, in its commercial value to the economy.

So this year, let us embrace the holiness of Halloween. Let our children take the fruits of their trick or treating and for each handful of candy, say a prayer for our loved ones who have gone before us. Let us make prayers to our beloved saints, let us acknowledge evil as we turn away from it and celebrate two of our most joyous feast, that of All Saints Day and All Souls Day. The eve of which we will spend looking after our children as they collect modern “soul cakes” with their trick or treating. God Bless.