Friday, October 28, 2011



Halloween was originally All Hallow's Eve, a Catholic ceremony held the day before All Hallow's Day (or All Saint's Day) on November 1st. All Hallow's Day was a time for Christians to say prayers for the souls of the dead who were stuck in Purgatory.

Although some people claim that Halloween derives from the Pagan celebration of Samhain, in fact, All Hallow's Eve has no connection with that pagan celebration at all.

According to the Oxford Dictionary of English Folklore:

"Certainly Samhain was a time for festive gatherings, and medieval Irish texts and later Irish, Welsh, and Scottish folklore use it as a setting for supernatural encounters, but there is no evidence that it was connected with the dead in pre-Christian times, or that pagan religious ceremonies were held."
Even the Jack-O-Lantern of today with it's frightening visage has its origins in the Catholic festival. According to the Oxford Companion to American Food and Drink and Halloween: From Pagan Ritual to Party Night, by Nicholas Rogers:

"Development of artifacts and symbols associated with Halloween formed over time. For instance, the carving of jack-o'-lanterns springs from the souling custom of carving turnips into lanterns as a way of remembering the souls held in purgatory. The turnip has traditionally been used in Ireland and Scotland at Halloween, but immigrants to North America used the native pumpkin, which are both readily available and much larger – making them easier to carve than turnips."
According to Mary Reed Newland writing at Catholic

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... 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.
Here they had either run out of soul cakes or plain didn't care. Charades, pantomimes, and little dramas, popular remnants of the miracle and morality plays of the Middle Ages, commonly rehearsed the folk in the reality of life after death and the means to attain it. It is probably from these that the custom of masquerading on Halloween had its beginning. The folly of a life of selfishness would be the message pantomimed by the damned; the torment of waiting, the message of the souls from Purgatory; the delights of the beatific vision, the message of the Heaven-sent.

So when you hear someone opine that Halloween is a Satanic holiday and should be banned, or crazy talk about turning it into "Jesus-ween", you can tell them that All Hallow's Eve is a Christian Celebration and saying otherwise is disrespecting 500 years of Catholic tradition.

I've been here and there. I've drawn a lot of pictures. I've written a bit, too. I'm not good at this self-promotion thing. Look, you want to know about me? just visit these websites. Okay?


Cal's Canadian Cave of Coolness said...

Well now I want my muther fu**in' soul cake. Is that anything like corn bread. I am having a cravin' for some corn bread.

M. D. Jackson said...

I have no idea what a "soul cake" is like but I do love me some corn bread. My wife makes great corn bread muffins whenever she makes a big pot of split pea soup. It's heavenly.

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