Trick-or-treat! Halloween has come again!
Beyond the tricks, candies, and costumes of the modern world, the origin of Halloween actually lies in European history. It has very humble and simple beginnings.
Halloween falls on October 31 every year. Interestingly, though, what follows after that day are two among some of the most important days in the Western calendar: All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day. There is an often unfamiliar connection between October 31, November 1, and November 2.
A different meaning of Halloween
Halloween (October 31) can also be called “All Hallows’ Eve,” the word “hallow” having something to do with “holy.” The connection between October 31 and November 1 may already be seen: All Hallows’ Eve has always served as a preparation or a vigil for All Saints’ Day, the day Christendom celebrates the triumph of all who are now in Heaven.
Think of Christmas Eve. What does everybody do? Whether it be secular preparations—viva la noche buena!—or spiritual preparations—Christmas Eve Mass, all of those prepare us for the great feast of Christmas. (In fact, just a side note, Christmas is a season. It doesn’t end after December 25.)
All Hallows’ Eve has basically worked the same way. The liturgical evening prayers, otherwise known as Vespers, for October 31 already commemorate that of All Saints’ Day, the following day. So All Hallows’ Eve is a vigil.
Trick-or-treating on Halloween
The history of trick-or-treating connects very much with that of November 2, or All Souls’ Day. On November 2, people pray for the faithful departed who may still be in Purgatory, a place and a state of purification (belief has it that one has to be completely rid of the stain of sin before entering Heaven). That’s why people frequent cemeteries and prayers are held for the faithful departed. Some priests wear black vestments during Mass to further give that flavor to the liturgy.
So, what does that have to do with trick-or-treating?
The origin of trick-or-treating
Trick-or-treating has its origins in European history as well, specifically to pre-Reformation England, in a tradition called souling.
Before All Souls’ Day, young children would go out and sing near rich peoples’ houses. They’d then approach these houses to be given treats—cookies, apples, peaches, plums, among others—by these rich people. The rich people, however, would also give them a paper with a name on it, after which the children would visit the church and pray for that person whose name was on the paper.
Thus, trick-or-treating has its connections to All Souls’ Day: the children would pray for the dead in Purgatory in exchange for treats. It served as an attractive way to get people to pray for the dead.
So in the end, these big days on the Western calendar—Halloween/All Hallows’ Eve, All Saints’ Day, and All Souls’ Day—connect with each other in a way that is often not realized.
The significance of the original, non-secular Halloween was not in dressing up as the scariest and spookiest of creatures. It celebrated the exact opposite: the good and the blessed.
The author of this article:
An accomplished young Chinese Filipino writer and media personality, Aaron S. Medina is associated with the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the Ateneo de Manila University Chinese Studies Program, the Philippine Association for Chinese Studies, and CHiNOY TV. He has a passion for truth, justice, and Pokémon, too! Follow him on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/aaron.joseph.s.medina/