All Saints Day and Halloween

Home | Category: Christian Holidays


Samhain carved turnip

All Saints' Day is a feast day celebrated on 1st November. All Souls' Day, 2nd November, is a time to pray for departed souls. All Saint’s Day honors all the saints. It a joyous occasion that anticipates the joy we will feel during our own salvation. All Soul’s Day, on November 2, also known as the Day of the Dead, honors all the dead. It has traditionally been marked with visits to family graves. It was founded by Saint Odilon, Abbot of Cluny, at the beginning of the 6th century. According to the BBC: “All Saints' Day (also known as All Hallows' Day or Hallowmas) is the day after All Hallows' Eve (Hallowe'en). It is a feast day celebrated on 1st November by Anglicans and Roman Catholics. It is an opportunity for believers to remember all saints and martyrs, known and unknown, throughout Christian history. As part of this day of obligation, believers are required to attend church and try not to do any servile work. [Source: October 20, 2011, BBC |::|]

“Remembering saints and martyrs and dedicating a specific day to them each year has been a Christian tradition since the 4th century AD, but it wasn't until 609AD that Pope Boniface IV decided to remember all martyrs. Originally 13th May was designated as the Feast of All Holy Martyrs. Later, in 837AD, Pope Gregory IV extended the festival to remember all the saints, changed its name to Feast of All Saints and changed the date to 1st November. |::|

“We celebrate today the solemnity of All Saints. This invites us to turn our gaze to the immense multitude of those who have already reached the blessed land, and points us on the path that will lead us to that destination. — Pope John Paul II, All Saints' Day 2003 |::|

Websites and Resources on Christianity BBC on Christianity ;Christian Answers ; Christian Classics Ethereal Library ; Sacred Texts website ; Internet Sourcebook ; Christian Denominations: Holy See ; Catholic Online ; Catholic Encyclopedia ; World Council of Churches, main world body for mainline Protestant churches BBC on Baptists ; BBC on Methodists ; ; Orthodox Church in America ; Online Orthodox Catechism published by the Russian Orthodox Church

All Souls' Day

According to the BBC: “All Souls' Day is marked on 2nd November (or the 3rd if the 2nd is a Sunday), directly following All Saints' Day, and is an opportunity for Roman Catholics and Anglo-Catholic churches to commemorate the faithful departed. They remember and pray for the souls of people who are in Purgatory - the place (or state) in which those who have died atone for their less grave sins before being granted the vision of God in Heaven (called Beatific vision). [Source: October 20, 2011, BBC |::|]

“Reasoning behind this stems from the notion that when a soul leaves the body, it is not entirely cleansed from venial (minor) sins. However, through the power of prayer and self-denial, the faithful left on earth may be able to help these souls gain the Beatific Vision they seek, bringing the soul eternal sublime happiness. |::|

“A 7/8th century AD prayer The Office of the Dead is read out in churches on All Souls' Day. Other rituals include the offering of Requiem Mass for the dead, visiting family graves and reflecting on lost loved ones. In Mexico, on el dia de los muertos (Day of the Dead), people take picnics to their family graves and leave food out for their dead relatives. |::|

“Whilst praying for the dead is an ancient Christian tradition, it was Odilo, Abbot of Cluny (France) who, in 998AD, designated a specific day for remembering and praying for those in the process of purification. This started as a local feast in his monasteries and gradually spread throughout the Catholic Church towards the end of the 10th century AD. |::|

“For the souls in purgatory, waiting for eternal happiness and for meeting the Beloved is a source of suffering, because of the punishment due to sin which separates them from God. But there is also the certitude that once the time of purification is over, the souls will go to meet the One it desires. — Letter of Pope John Paul II for Millennium of All Souls' Day |::|

All Hallows' Eve

All Hallow's Eve

“All Hallows' Eve falls on 31st October each year, and is the day before All Hallows Day, also known as All Saints' Day. According to the BBC: “The Church traditionally held a vigil on All Hallows' Eve when worshippers would prepare themselves with prayers and fasting prior to the feast day itself. The name derives from the Old English 'hallowed' meaning holy or sanctified and is now usually contracted to the more familiar word Hallowe'en. [Source: October 20, 2011, BBC |::|]

“In the early 7th century Pope Boniface IV consecrated the Pantheon in Rome, formerly a temple to all the gods, as a church dedicated to Saint Mary and the Martyrs, and ordered that that date, 13th May, should be celebrated every year. It became All Saints' Day, a day to honour all the saints, and later, at the behest of Pope Urban IV (d. 1264), a day specially to honour those saints who didn't have a festival day of their own. |::|

“In the 8th century, on 1st November, Pope Gregory III dedicated a chapel to all the saints in St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. Gregory IV then made the festival universal throughout the Church, and 1st November has subsequently become All Saints' Day for the western Church. The Orthodox Church celebrates All Saints' Day on the first Sunday after Passover - a date closer to the original 13th May. |::|


Halloween is believed to have evolved from both the ancient Celtic harvest festival of Samhain (pronounced Sow-en) and the Christian festival "All Saint's Day" ("All Hallows Day"). The name "Halloween" is derived "All Hallow's Eve," the day before All Hallows Day. Samhain was practiced in Ireland and ancient Britain, and on the continent under different names. In A.D. 731, the Catholic Church said that November 1st was into All Saints Day, partly as an effort to stamp out non-Christian festivals, and October 31st became All Souls Eve.

Samhain was held on November 1st. It marked the end of the harvest season and the beginning of the Celtic year and the long nights, when cattle were driven from to slaughter and the fighting season came to a close. It was a time when spirits of the dead were thought to return to their original homes and ghosts, goblin, demons and witches wandered about the countryside.

Samhain was a time of drinking, feasting and partying. The Celts believed that during Samain ghosts and demons rose from limbo between the old year and the year and mingled with the people on earth. All fires were put out and relighted and first born children were sacrificed to ensure the fertility of crops and livestock.

Origin of Halloween — All Saints’ Day Combined with Samhain

It is widely believed that many Halloween traditions began as an effort by the early Church to Christianize Samhain, a Gaelic word meaning 'end of the summer'. This festival is believed to have been a celebration of the end of the harvest, and a time of preparation for the coming winter. Encyclopaedia Britannica states that the timing may have been chosen "in an effort to supplant the Pagan holiday with a Christian observance". The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions also claims that Hallowe'en "absorbed and adopted the Celtic new year festival, the eve and day of Samhain". However, there are supporters of the view that Hallowe'en, as the eve of All Saints' Day, originated entirely independently of Samhain and some question the existence of a specific pan-Celtic religious festival which took place on October 31st and November 1st . [Source: BBC]

Halloween was introduced to the United States by Irish immigrants. Erin Mullally wrote in Archaeology magazine: Modern Halloween is a combination of Samhain traditions — many brought to the United States by early Irish and Scottish immigrants — and end-of-harvest practices brought by other European immigrants, with the Christian All Saints’ Day superimposed on it. But Samhain may be its closest ancient relative. [Source: Erin Mullally, Archaeology magazine, November-December 2016]

“Halloween is the direct descendant of Samhain and has managed to survive through the centuries in spite of the ‘tacking on’ of All Saints’ Day by those who Christianized Ireland,” says Eamonn Kelly, former Keeper of Antiquities at the National Museum of Ireland. “The spooky stuff that we associate with Halloween, such as ghosts, the dead entering our world, and communing with spirits, can be traced to Samhain, which centuries of Christian tradition never completely managed to stamp out.”

“According to Irish mythology, Samhain was a time when doorways to the spirit world were opened, allowing the dead to visit the living world. Some spirits were considered friendly, while others were not, and the Celts created ways to appease them. Food or sacrificial offerings were left outside homes and, in another tradition, revelers visited homes in costumes or disguises and recited poems or verses — all origins of trick-or-treating. Likewise, Celtic druids often offered prophecies on Samhain, not dissimilar to ghost stories told today. An Irish text that dates to the tenth century, Nera and the Dead Man, tells of a man who accepts a dare during a dark and stormy Samhain to tie branches around the body of a hanging dead man. As he does, the dead man suddenly comes to life and asks Nera to carry him on his back. “And of course,” says Kelly, “we have the ever-present Halloween bonfires, following the same exact same type of ritual that could have taken place at the Hill of Ward during Samhain.

Evolution of Halloween From Samhain

According to the BBC: “It is widely accepted that the early church missionaries chose to hold a festival at this time of year in order to absorb existing native Pagan practices into Christianity, thereby smoothing the conversion process. A letter Pope Gregory I sent to Bishop Mellitus in the 6th century, in which he suggested that existing places of non-Christian worship be adopted and consecrated to serve a Christian purpose, is often provided as supporting evidence of this method of acculturation. (See related links.) |::|

“In his book Halloween: From Pagan Ritual to Party Night, Nicholas Rogers states: Festivals commemorating the saints as opposed to the original Christian martyrs appear to have been observed by 800. In England and Germany, this celebration took place on 1st November. In Ireland, it was commemorated on 20th April, a chronology that contradicts the widely held view that the November date was chosen to Christianize the festival of Samhain. [Source: Nicholas Rogers, “Halloween: From Pagan Ritual to Party Night”]

“Steve Roud, author of A Pocket Guide To Superstitions Of The British Isles, says: Certainly the festival of Samhain, meaning Summer's End, was by far the most important of the four quarter days in the medieval Irish calendar, and there was a sense that this was the time of year when the physical and supernatural worlds were closest and magical things could happen, but however strong the evidence in Ireland, in Wales it was 1st May and New Year which took precedence, in Scotland there is hardly any mention of it until much later, and in Anglo-Saxon England even less. [Source: Steve Roud, A Pocket Guide To Superstitions Of The British Isles]

All Soul's Day in Germany

“In Stations of the Sun: A History of the Ritual Year in Britain, Ronald Hutton says: Heavy Irish immigration into the Scottish Highlands and Isles in the early Middle Ages carried the name Samhain there, in local variations, but to the Welsh the day was 'Calan Gaeaf', 'the first day of winter', and the night before was termed 'Nos Galan Gaea', winter's eve'. Perhaps significantly, the earliest Welsh literature attributes no arcane significance to these dates (in sharp contrast to May Eve) and describes no gatherings then (in sharp contrast to New Year). It must be concluded, therefore, that the medieval records furnish no evidence that 1st November was a major pan-Celtic festival, and none of religious ceremonies, even where it was observed. An Anglo-Saxon counterpart is difficult either to prove or to dismiss completely. [Source: Ronal Hutton, Stations of the Sun: A History of the Ritual Year in Britain]

Halloween Customs

Halloween symbols fall into three e major categories: 1) death (graveyards, ghosts, haunted houses and skeletons: 2) evil (witches, goblins and black cats); and 3) harvest (pumpkins, scarecrows, corn shocks and candy corn).

Some people suggest that trick or treating began with the Samhain tradition of opening the doors of the house and providing food for wandering souls and the presumed custom of people dressing up as dead souls and demanding food. Others believed in began in the United States when society became more urbanized (trick or treating didn’t's make much sense in rural areas where the distances between houses was so great). The word "trick or treat" wasn’t widely used until after it appeared in a file of Merriam-Webster in 1941.

Some people have suggested that Halloween's association with pranks and practical jokes is related to Guy Fawkes Day, a British holiday on November 5th that commemorates an attempt to blow up the British king in 1605. The holiday featured bonfires, children soliciting "a penny for a guy" and pranking.

Jack-o'-lanterns were the names that Irish gave to strange lights that led men astray in the bogs. To this day farmers in northern Ireland still cut three steps in turf banks, some say to avoid the curse of St. Columba. The saint, apparently was once trapped in a boghole and laid a curse on all those who didn't cut the three steps so that could out. Jack-o'-lanterns did not become associated with pumpkins until after Columbus arrived in America because pumpkins were unknown in Europe until then. The original European jack-o-lanterns were turnips.

"Behind such Halloween games as bobbing for apples," write Merle Severy in National Geographic lies Celtic divination arts to discern who would marry, thrive or die in the coming year. Behind the masks and mischief, the jack o' lanterns and food offerings, lurk the fear of malevolent spirits and the rites to propitiate them.

Halloween is more Christian than Pagan

According to a LifeWay Poll, 51 percent of evangelical Christians either avoid Halloween completely (28 percent) or avoid the “pagan elements” (23 percent). Beth Allison Barr wrote in the Washington Post, As a historian, I find this poll disappointing. Not because I think everyone should participate in Halloween (I don’t really care that much), but because the very wording of the poll — “When you consider the pagan elements of Halloween, which is closer to your attitude?” — conveys that Halloween is still mostly regarded as a non-Christian holiday. [Source: Beth Allison Barr, Washington Post, October 28, 2016. Barr is associate professor and Director of Graduate Studies at Baylor University’s history department. This was first published on Patheos’ Anxious Bench blog]

“Yes, Halloween has similarities with (possibly accretions from) Samhain, the Celtic end-of-summer celebration. But that does not make it a pagan holiday. As historian Nicholas Rogers, author of “Halloween: From Pagan Ritual to Party Night” (Oxford University Press, 2002), puts it: “If Samhain imparted to Halloween a supernatural charge and an intrinsic liminality, it did not offer much in the way of actual ritual practices, save in its fire rites. Most of these developed in conjunction with the medieval holy days of All Souls’ and All Saints’ day.”

“Indeed, most of the traditions we associate with Halloween are medieval or early modern in their origin — not “pagan.” First, we know that festivals commemorating saints (All Hallows Eve) existed in Europe by 800. We also know that these festivals were not created to supplant previously-existing pagan rituals. The Irish world (which provides the origin of the Celtic feast Samhain) celebrated a feast for saints in April while the Germanic world (which did not recognize Samhain) celebrated in November.

“What does this tell us? It tells us that the actual chronology of Halloween “contradicts the widely held view that the November date was chosen to Christianize the festival of Samhain” (Rogers). In fact, John Mirk’s Festial (the most popular orthodox sermon compilation in late medieval England) actually explains how “All Hallows Eve” came about. Pope Boniface IV converted the Roman Pantheon into a Christian church dedicated to saints and martyrs during the 7th century. This day was then commemorated as All Saints’ Day. While Mirk’s story does tell about the Christian appropriation of a pagan temple, his narrative is firmly situated in a Christian event (the dedication of a new church) far removed from the Celtic world of Samhain. From this medieval perspective, “Halloween” is a celebration of Christian triumph over paganism, rather than a pagan holiday masquerading as Christian.

All Saints Day in Poland

“Second, in the words of historian Ronald Hutton, we have “no idea” about what actually happened during the Celtic celebration of Samhain. Despite what you may have read from Pat Robertson’s website or from James Frazer’s “The Golden Bough” (a classic social anthropology study from 1890 that explores the parallels between Christianity and ancient mythology), we have very little evidence about the actual practices of Celtic people or their festivals.

“Nicholas Rogers argues that James Frazer’s description of Samhain in “The Golden Bough” anachronistically projected medieval traditions onto the past (as Rogers writes, “there is no hard evidence that Samhain was specifically devoted to the dead or to ancestor worship”). In fact, scholars really aren’t sure what “Celtic” culture entails. Some are even questioning the reality of the “Celts” as a coherent people group. Let me say it again: we have very little evidence about the actual festivals of the people we know as Celts.

“It is the medieval Christian festivals of All Saints’ and All Souls’ that provide our firmest foundation for Halloween. From emphasizing dead souls (both good and evil), to decorating skeletons, lighting candles for processions, building bonfires to ward off evil spirits, organizing community feasts, and even encouraging carnival practices like costumes, the medieval and early modern traditions of “Hallowtide” fit well with our modern holiday. So what does this all mean? It means that when we celebrate Halloween, we are definitely participating in a tradition with deep historical roots. But, while those roots are firmly situated in the medieval Christian past, their historical connection to “paganism” is rather more tenuous.”

Christian-friendly Halloween candy

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Internet Sourcebook ; “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File); “ Encyclopedia of the World’s Religions” edited by R.C. Zaehner (Barnes & Noble Books, 1959); King James Version of the Bible,; New International Version (NIV) of The Bible,; Christian Classics Ethereal Library (CCEL) , Frontline, PBS, Wikipedia, BBC, National Geographic, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time,, Reuters, Associated Press, Business Insider, AFP, Library of Congress, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated March 2024

This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been authorized by the copyright owner. Such material is made available in an effort to advance understanding of country or topic discussed in the article. This constitutes 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. If you are the copyright owner and would like this content removed from, please contact me.