All Saints Day is a major feast in the Christian calendar, and comes each year on November 1. Note that the Old English word for “saints” was halig, which eventually became “hallow.” (Possibly because it was easier to say.)
So the Old English “All Haligs’ Day” became “All Hallows,” and in turn the evening before that Feast Day became “All Hallows Evening.” In time that got shortened, to “All Hallows E’en,” then “Hallowe’en,” and then just plain Halloween.
And here’s another note: There are three days in the Hallowmas triduum. (A triduum is a “traditional religious observance lasting three days.”)
The main Feast Day of the triduum is All Saints’ Day, which this year falls on a Saturday (10/1/14), which brings up the matter of the early Church absorbing “native practices:”
According to many scholars, All Hallows’ Eve is a Christianized feast initially influenced by Celtic harvest festivals, with possible pagan roots, particularly the Gaelic Samhain… On All Hallows’ Eve, Christians traditionally believed that the veil between the material world and the afterlife thinned.
See Halloween – Wikipedia, emphasis added. (Samhain was an age-old Celtic festival “marking the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter or the ‘darker half’ of the year.”)
As originally practiced, on the Eve of All Hallows, people would wear masks or put on costumes in order to disguise their identities. The idea was to keep the afterlife “hallows” from recognizing the people in this, the “material world.” (Hallows being another name for the “souls” or “ghosts” of the dear departed, and especially those recently departed):
The Celts believed that at the time of Samhain, more so than any other time of the year, the ghosts of the dead were able to mingle with the living, because at Samhain the souls of those who had died during the year traveled into the otherworld.
So to review, Halloween is just one day of the three-day religious observance known as Hallowmas, also known as the Triduum of All Hallows. And again, that three-day celebration includes: 1) All Hallows’ Eve (Hallowe’en), 2) All Saints’ Day (All Hallows’ Day), and 3) All Soul’s Day, to form the triduum that lasts from October 31 to November 2.
Wikipedia added that “Hallowmas is a time to remember the dead, including martyrs, saints, and all faithful departed Christians. The dates of Hallowmas were established in the 8th century,” over 1,200 years ago, and the liturgical color of All Saints Day is white, a color which symbolizes “victory and life.” [Which is, after all, the whole idea…]
Christians who celebrate All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day do so in the fundamental belief that there is a prayerful spiritual bond between those in heaven (the “Church triumphant“), and the living (the “Church militant“).
Further, while honoring the “Church Triumphant,” All Hallows Day seeks especially to “honor the blessed who have not been canonized and who have no special feast day.”
As for All Souls’ Day, in Western Christianity the day is also known as “the Commemoration of All Faithful Departed.” It’s the third day of Hallowmas and falls on November 2.
In the Anglican Communion, the intermediate state is known as Hades … and as a result ‘the Church has always held that it is right and proper for us to pray [for] the souls of the departed, that they may go from grace to grace until they are finally received in Heaven,’ which will occur after the Resurrection of the Dead and the General Judgment.
And a word of explanation, as to that intermediate state:
That’s the state of being that “we” are in right now, that is, in our present earthly incarnation while moving toward our “heavenly” goal. (Which leads to the wisdom stated in Psalm 119:19, “I am a stranger here on earth.“) As to the practice of “trick or treating,” it’s based on that old Celtic practice of wearing a disguise to keep the hallows or ghosts from recognizing you. See Trick-or-treating – Wikipedia:
The “trick” is a (usually idle) threat to perform mischief on the homeowners or their property if no treat is given to them. In North America, trick-or-treating has been a customary Halloween tradition since the late 1940s… Trick-or-treating resembles the late medieval practice of souling, when poor folk would go door to door on Hallowmas (November 1), receiving food in return for prayers for the dead on All Souls Day (November 2). It originated in Ireland and Britain, although similar practices for the souls of the dead were found as far south as Italy.
Souling became a regular observance in the country towns of England, where “small companies [went] about from parish to parish at Halloween, begging soul-cakes” and singing a song, “Soul, soul, for a soul-cake: Pray you, good mistress, a soul-cake!’” (The rich “gave soul cakes to the poor on Halloween” in return for prayers for “the souls of the givers and their friends…”)
A soul-cake is small round cake “traditionally made for All Saints Day or All Souls’ Day to celebrate the dead. The cakes, often simply referred to as souls, were given out to soulers,” (mainly children and the poor), who went “from door to door on Halloween singing and saying prayers for the dead. Each cake eaten would represent a soul being freed from Purgatory. The practice of giving and eating soul cakes is often seen as the origin of modern trick-or-treating.”
And of images like the one below.
The upper image is courtesy of Allhallowtide – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, with the caption: “A graveyard outside a Lutheran church in Röke, Sweden on the feast of All Hallows. Flowers and lighted candles are placed by relatives on the graves of their deceased loved ones.”
The text was gleaned from that online article and others including Halloween – Wikipedia (and articles therein), as is the lower image, with the caption: “A jack-o’-lantern, one of the symbols of Halloween representing the souls of the dead.” See also History of Halloween – Halloween History, Halloween – Library of Congress, Hallow’s Eve – American Catholic, and/or BBC – Religions – Christianity: All Hallows’ Eve.
“The term jack-o’-lantern is in origin a term for the visual phenomenon ignis fatuus (lit., “foolish fire”) known as a will-o’-the-wisp in English folklore. Used especially in East Anglia, its earliest known use dates to the 1660s. The term ‘will-o’-the-wisp’ uses ‘wisp’ (a bundle of sticks or paper sometimes used as a torch) and the proper name ‘Will:’ thus, ‘Will-of-the-torch.’ The term jack-o’-lantern is of the same construction: ‘Jack of [the] lantern.'”
According to some accounts, jack-o’-lanterns “represented Christian souls in purgatory,” while others say “they were sometimes set on windowsills to keep the harmful spirits out of one’s home.”