You so often hear how Catholics have “baptized” some Pagan practice to sanctify it. While no doubt this has certainly happened many times (wedding rings for example), the most famous examples of this happening is for All Saints Day and Christmas.
But the question is are these valid examples? On plenty of otherwise solid articles on Halloween I see the nebulous “scholars say” in reference to Pope Gregory III moving the celebration from May 13th to Nov 1st that he was doing so to override a pagan celebration. I have though never seen any evidence to really back this up. Father Augustine Thompson, O.P. in Catholic Parent in 2000 wrote:
It’s true that the ancient Celts of Ireland and Britain celebrated a minor festival on October 31–as they did on the last day of most other months of the year. However, Halloween falls on the last day of October because the Feast of All Saints, or “All Hallows,” falls on November 1. The feast in honor of all the saints in heaven used to be celebrated on May 13, but Pope Gregory III (d. 741) moved it to November 1, the dedication day of All Saints Chapel in St. Peter’s at Rome. Later, in the 840s, Pope Gregory IV commanded that All Saints be observed everywhere. And so the holy day spread to Ireland.
The day before was the feast’s evening vigil, “All Hallows Even,” or “Hallowe’en.” In those days Halloween didn’t have any special significance for Christians or for long-dead Celtic pagans.
In 998, St. Odilo, the abbot of the powerful monastery of Cluny in southern France, added a celebration on November 2. This was a day of prayer for the souls of all the faithful departed. This feast, called All Souls Day, spread from France to the rest of Europe.
So now the Church had feasts for all those in heaven and all those in purgatory. What about those in the other place? It seems Irish Catholic peasants wondered about the unfortunate souls in hell. After all, if the souls in hell are left out when we celebrate those in heaven and purgatory, they might be unhappy enough to cause trouble. So it became customary to bang pots and pans on All Hallows Even to let the damned know they were not forgotten. Thus, in Ireland at least, all the dead came to be remembered–even if the clergy were not terribly sympathetic to Halloween and never allowed All Damned Day into the church calendar.
So the idea of Pope Gregory III specifically choosing this day to override the Celtic holiday of Samhain seems to me to be totally lacking in evidence. Ireland was certainly no longer a Pagan country by 741 and it seems more likely that it was moved to this day simply because it is the dedication day of All Saints Chapel in St. Peter’s at Rome. Besides this feast was not raised to a universal feast by Pope Gregory IV until almost 80 years after the transference by Pope Gregory III. It would be rather odd for Gregory III to move it to Nov 1 to offset a Celtic celebration when it was only a local feast and not even celebrated in Ireland yet.
Now when it comes to Christmas I think Mark Shea aptly shows that Sol Invictus was actually created as a response by Pagans to Christians celebrating the Nativity of Christ and not the other way around as so-called popular knowledge says. Often the more we learn sometimes means the more we have to unlearn.
Now in the spirit of secular Halloween, here is something really scary.
That picture is just scary!
What’s he going to do, consecrate Reese’s peanut butter cups?
Interesting, but it doesn’t really matter if All Saint’s Eve is baptized Samhain or not, does it? And while I know you don’t mean it this way, this article seems like something that would be constructed as a way to respond to those Puritanical folks who refuse to celebrate Halloween because it’s “too pagan.” But it would be a faulty way. Saying, “No it actually has nothing to do with paganism at all!” implies that it would be right to condemn it if it did. Whether it was originally pagan or not, it was made Christian. ^_^
Jeff, where did you find that article from Catholic Parent? I used to give copies of it to people who were concerned about the “pagan” origins of Hallowe’en, but I lost my original and was never able to find it online. I would like to have the whole thing again.
Mary: The article WAS a response to people who said that Hallowe’en is “really” pagan. I understand your point, but it is equally valid to say that the argument is pointless, because many of those people actually believe that Hallowe’en is still in some sense pagan, that it attracts demons, and if you celebrate it you are unknowingly (or maybe even knowingly!) participating in Satan worship. Stuff like that. If you’ve never met anyone who says that, then just believe me: Plenty of people do. They are, literally, frightened of Halloween. I find it helpful to tell them they’re wrong and that it never did have anything to do with worshiping pagan Gods or demons or Satan.
Ah, its that time of year again. My most commonly reprinted article. Gail, copies of the article are all over the web, in at least 7 languages. I wish my last book sold that well.
And yes, the point of the article was that the modern holiday of Halloween is historically totally unconnected to anything “pagan”–even the witches were added by Halmark in the 1890s.
By the way, the call as to whether children should participate (and what is the best way to do this) is something that should be left to the parents, after they have informed themselves about its history, current practices, and what goes on in their area.
It isn’t so uninfluent that holidays are born catholic or not, when someone try to “revert it to original meaning” as we can see in Oxford pronunciation against Christmas. “Winter light fest”, oh yes.
Sometime I wonder if every antichristian tale is false. Anytime I believe any of them I find later that is forgery.
I did read recently that Lammas was a Catholic feast day that actually did replace a Celtic holiday. Apparently, Lammas refers to either Lamb’s mass or Loaves Mass (first fruits). It was a minor local Catholic holiday and eventually forgotten. It must have been effective though because Wiccans now celebrate Lammas as one of the four major Celtic pagan holiday.
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