Category Archives: Halloween

Mattel, Say “Catholic.”

Just say it, Mattel. Say it. It’s not hard. CAAAAATH-LIC.

“Barbie® celebrates Dia De Muertos 2020 with a second collectible doll inspired by the time-honored holiday. Dia De Muertos is a two-day holiday in early November when families gather to celebrate the lives of their departed loved ones. This colorful and lively event is filled with music, food, sweets, offerings and flowers. The Barbie® Dia De Muertos series honors the traditions, symbols and rituals often seen throughout this time.”

So yeah, let’s totally avoid the words “Catholic” and “Mexican.” Let’s avoid the fact that it’s a religious holiday. And why do you think it’s only about “ancestors,” and not about all the dead, and especially the Poor Souls who have nobody to pray for them? And what exactly do you mean by “offerings,” Mattel? And what are the two days of the “two-day” holiday, Mattel? Why would you say “early November” and not give the dates????

Ugh, ugh, ugh. Two steps forward, two steps back.

It’s not about going to cemeteries to “celebrate the lives” of the beloved dead, although that happens. It’s about praying for the souls of the dead, and asking them to pray for us from Purgatory and Heaven. It’s about remembering that dead Christians are still part of the Communion of Saints, and hence present with us as a “cloud of witness” — which is why people have cemetery picnics and put up temporary prayer station. It’s about making reparation for the sins of those who died repentant but were sent to Purgatory to purify them for bliss in God’s presence, and for praying for the unbaptized or pagan dead to be under Christ’s mercy, also.

And of course it’s not just a Mexican holiday, although Mexico got the full benefit of the traditions of all the Hapsburg monarchs’ domains in Spain, Germany, and the Netherlands, all the way to eastern Europe and the Far Eastern missions, courtesy of many religious orders and settlers. Everywhere there are Catholics and decent weather on November 2, it’s a big deal.

And no, dressing up candy skulls and such are not a pagan Mexican thing, sorry. It’s a danse macabre, memento mori thing from medieval Europe. It got big in the 1400’s and stuck around through the 1600’s, but hung on in places like Spain and Italy up until the present, and it got to Mexico by way of the Spanish settlers. You don’t have to like the aesthetic, just like you don’t have to like hellfire and brimstone spirituality; but it’s Christian unless people are purposefully paganizing it.

If anything, it was meant to combat the Aztec spirituality where the gods were wearing people’s body parts, and the jaguar god idea where skulls and headhunts were used to enslave human souls, with the idea of honored relics and cheerful deathless skeleton pictures anticipating the full joy of blessed souls reunited with their resurrected glorified bodies.

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More Halloween/Hallowtide Stuff

I found an interesting book online that had some Halloween historical references.

Halloween: From Pagan Ritual to Party Night by Nicholas Rogers is actually an Oxford University Press book, with footnotes and everything. There’s the obligatory first chapter about Samain, but then the second chapter points out that the history of All Saints sorta contradicts the idea that Halloween is pagan. (Okay, he says it in just one sentence that is easy to miss, but that’s better than most holiday history books.)

The main focus of the second chapter is how Hallowtide stuff was celebrated in England, before and after Henry VIII.

One interesting fact is that Hallowtide was a popular time for the Church to urge marriage, since Advent was coming up and you couldn’t get married in a fasting period like Advent.

Also, Hallowmas included a Gospel reading (possibly in the Office?) about the seven faithful virgins waiting for the Bridegroom to come and the wedding feast to begin. Rogers has a source that says a monks’ choir sang the antiphon about this with their hoods up, to look more like the girls waiting in the dark and cold. The online source didn’t include this footnote, but it sounds fun! Anyway, he points to this as the first move in the autumn and winter “masking season” of various fun parties and occasions for guising.

Before the Reformation, it was common to have prayer vigils on Halloween. These included the ringing of bells all night (which persisted even after it was outlawed by Edward VI), bonfires on hilltops, torchlight processions, praying for good fortune and good crops for the coming year and for the dead; as well as actual poor people going begging for food (so that they could eat better the next day, and throughout Hallowtide). (Shakespeare even talks about this in Two Gentlemen of Verona.) All Souls’ Day was the big cemetery visit day throughout most of Europe, and often involved eating a picnic or leaving food instead of flowers.

After the Reformation, customs splintered in England. In Catholic areas, there was still a lot of praying for the dead, fires, and candles throughout Hallowtide. (Up north, Catholic people would go out and pray for the dead in the middle of a field, in lieu of a church. One custom was to light a fire, and pray for the dead until it burned out.) In Protestant areas, sometimes the torchlight processions and other customs kept going, but it was sometimes about “scaring off witches” instead of encouraging prayer. “Souling” and giving out soulcakes was encouraged in Catholic areas, but “doling” tended to move to other November days in Protestant parts of England. (Guy Fawkes, St. Clement’s Day, St. Catherine’s Day, etc.)

Soothsaying on Halloween seems to have been connected originally with the marriage motif — part of games encouraging giggling, speculation, and courtship by the bashful. Girls would put rosemary under their pillows and hope to dream of their future sweethearts, or put nuts together in a fire in the name of a local couple, to see if the nuts would stay together or jump apart.

But with the transfer of praying for the dead to fearing witches and demons, there is an idea which emerges that you might be able to see visions or doppelgangers of those doomed to die in the next year. There was also divination by egg whites in water, in much the same fashion as reading tea leaves later on.

Less seriously, there were also lots of weather predictions based on Halloween weather.

On the benign side, since animals were slaughtered during Hallowtide (after the field harvest was over, and before you needed to worry about winter fodder), pig and cow bladders also became available for kids and young people to inflate and play with. And that’s why November is football season.

On the not so benign side, Hallowmas month was also the month of charivaris, grudge-settling, and pranks. People had time on their hands, it wasn’t winter yet, and it got dark early. Since it was a time of “misrule” fun leading up to Twelfth Night, and since there were lots of opportunities for wearing masks, you could get beat up, serenaded, or made to ride a rail by your exasperated or bullying neighbors.

Halloween in America, until somewhere in the 1950’s, was mostly about the romance and the pranks, with only a little bit of Scottish ghosties and ghoulies. Until trick or treating was made an activity for little kids, it often used to be much more about mild mischievous extortion than about doling or souling! So there’s a lot of applicable English material.

Highland Superstitions by Alexander Macgregor has a fair amount of Halloween material. It’s one of those read between the lines books, though. Why are young men running around the boundaries of their family farms at night, in the deiseil direction, with a “samhnag” torch? Is it a superstitious prehistoric magical ritual? Or is it a Scottish legal claim to land on the law-holiday of Samain? Is it the remnants of a really fast torchlight prayer procession, done to evade fines for practicing Catholicism? Or is it just a way to burn off energy and show athletic prowess? Who knows? He’s just reporting folkloric stuff in his time (in a disapproving way).

At any rate, the carrying of the torches was supposedly done to protect the farm from either crop failures and diseases, or the fairies. Then the samhnag torches, after being carried around the bounds, were supposed to be kept alight at the house, thus protecting pregnant women and babies on Halloween night from being stolen away.

Hallowe’en, much like May Eve, was one of the traditional nights when people could be stolen or returned. (Probably because traditional yearly work contracts started on the Celtic New Year, Samain, and ended on All Hallows’ Eve.) As I’ve pointed out elsewhere, Samain was the day when legal issues were settled by the local king and his assembly of nobles; and therefore the roads were more fully protected during the time before and after Samain, anybody could come see the king, and inter-kingdom travel was less of a legal problem. Even after Ireland and Scotland’s old legal system went away, supposedly the fairies still traveled on Samain and the way into their hills was left open.

There’s also a very sad story about why you shouldn’t play pranks on a poor girl throwing her blue clue into an unlit kiln.

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The Real Reason Halloween is on October 31

Muslims, of course. And iconoclast emperors.

Okay, let’s recap the status of All Saints’ feasts.

Back in the day, the celebration of all the martyrs not otherwise celebrated, or all the saints not otherwise celebrated, usually took place in the spring. In Edessa, it was on May 13, from AD 320 on. In Lebanon and Syria, you have celebrations in Lent, or on the first Thursday after Easter from 411 on, a celebration of all martyrs. In Antioch (from the days of Ss. Ephrem and John Chrysostom) and in Wurzburg, All Saints (ton Hagion Panton) was the first Sunday after Pentecost. In the West, it was on April 20.

When the Pantheon in Rome was turned into the Church of Sancta Maria ad Martyres in 609, the building was dedicated on May 13, and Rome began celebrating All Saints’ Day on May 13. There was some spread of the new date, but it was all voluntary changes. Rome did not push it on other areas. Ireland, for one, still celebrated on April 20. But it was a big feast, and Pope Sergius I wrote a long litany in Greek for it in AD 690.

And then, in 731 in Rome, the date changed again.

It was a sad time in Church history. Emperor Leo III, Leo the Isaurian, was a skilled general and governor from Syria, who had overthrown Theodosius III with the help of other military officials. His strong governance had brought peace to the Empire and driven back the Bulgars and Muslims. But he had also brought in forcible Baptism of Jews and Montanists, and then decided that he could smoothe things over with the Muslims (or Arian proto-Muslims, or whatever was going on in the Middle East) by scrubbing Christianity of images and saints. He declared icons illegal in a series of laws that came out from 726-729. Much of the aristocracy supported him, but most theologians, monks, and normal laypeople hated it.

Over in the West, people just ignored Emperor Leo’s dumb edicts. In the East, people who defied the new laws got punished — or they got the heck out, moving to places like Rome with less economy and more freedom. Ironically, one of the strongest voices against Emperor Leo was St. John of Damascus — who lived in Damascus and other places in the Muslim caliphate, and thus could not get silenced by Emperor Leo.

Emperor Leo III also had a feud going with Pope Gregory II. In 722 (the year of the forced  baptisms), the Emperor demanded more tax money and tax food from Rome and the papal estates, because there were war expenses. But Rome was having trouble feeding its own people, and had no surplus money or food to send. The imperial governor of Rome got insistent, so the Roman populace threw the rascal out. (And the Pope didn’t object or anything.) Since imperial forces in Ravenna were busy holding off the Lombards/Longobards, and since Emperor Leo was too busy to send troops from elsewhere, the Romans got away with it.

In 725, Emperor Leo sent a new guy, Marinus, to be Dux of his Roman lands. Things might have smoothed over, but Marinus made a serious attempt to put a hit on the Pope. He got recalled, another guy was made Exarch of Ravenna, and the assassination plot continued. It got discovered, the plotters talked, and nobody in Rome loved Constantinople.

Then the iconoclasm laws came along. The East says that Gregory II excommunicated the Emperor. The West says that he sent some strongly worded letters telling the Emperor to butt out of religious matters, and that iconoclasm was evil and stupid. Emperor Leo sent a new Exarch, who started a new plot to kill the Pope and the major notables of Rome. This plot got discovered, too. The Exarch then made a deal with the Lombards to attack Rome as a joint force, but the Pope managed to get the Lombards to change their minds. Gregory stayed openly courteous to Exarch Eutychius, and helped him fight off a non-religious revolt. Eutychius was grateful, and things were looking up.

Then Pope Gregory II died on February 11, 731. He was later declared a saint; his feastday is on February 13.

Since he was such a saintly guy and had led the fight against iconoclasm, a lot of people showed up for Gregory II’s funeral. One of them was a Syrian priest, Gregory son of John. He seems to have been something of a scholar and a holy type of guy, but he must have really made an impression.

Because on February 22, 731, this visitor to Rome got elected Pope. By acclamation of the people of Rome.

He was so flabbergasted that he followed an old custom, and asked permission from the Exarch of Ravenna. (Because he was from the East, where bishop was more of a government bureaucratic position.) It was granted, and he was consecrated bishop and Pope on March 18. (No telling what his old bishop thought about it.) He was the last pope until Pope Francis to have origins outside of Europe.

Pope Gregory III started things off with a bang, by sending nice letters to the exiled/deposed Patriarch of Constantinople, and nastygrams about iconoclasm to Emperor Leo III. The emperor put the pope’s messenger in prison.

Pope Gregory III doubled down. He put up a full ikonostasis at the base of the two-story main altar structure of the old St. Peter’s Basilica. He called a synod against iconoclasm and for devotion to Mary and the saints, to be held in November 731. And he also ordered a new oratory to be built in the main nave, all the way down front, and just to the left of the doors going to the main altar. The oratory featured two altars (one honoring Mary, the other St. Gabinius) with a big arch covering them, and a consolidation of saints’ bodies and relics (many removed from dilapidated or abandoned old churches), which were reburied under the oratory floor and the altars. Gregory also installed more images, of course!

On November 1, 731, just before the start of the synod against iconoclasm, the new oratory was dedicated. Pope Gregory III announced that from now on, the feast of All Saints in Rome would be celebrated on November 1. (Which of course made the eve of the feast a time for fasting, prayer vigils, and whatever stuff you do to stay awake during fasting and prayer vigils.)

Emperor Leo III sent a fleet to punish Rome, but it was wrecked.

The new date of the feast was still promulgated by free choice; but a lot of kings and missionaries were interested in it because it was a blow against iconoclasm. (And overbearing Byzantine emperors.) Ireland doesn’t seem to have picked up the new date for a long time.

Pope Gregory III reigned until his death on November 28, 741. (He and Emperor Leo III died in the same year.) He was buried in his oratory of Mary and the saints. Unlike Leo, Pope Gregory III was later declared a saint, and his day is December 10.

So there’s no Celtic pagan holiday. The reason we have Halloween is an emperor who was soft on Muslims and hard on icons, and a Pope who fought back.

Everything else is just decorations and candy.

* Other achievements by Pope St. Gregory III — Appointed St. Boniface the archbishop of Germany, and a papal legate, in order to support missionary work among German pagans and lapsed Christians. Founded and perpetually funded a hospital for the poor, dedicated to the Eastern Ss. Sergius and Bacchus. Founded a monastery in Rome named St. Chrysogonus. Restored Rome’s walls. Built, restored, re-roofed, and decorated many churches in Rome. Put a lead roof back on the Pantheon. Helped recapture Ravenna from the Lombards. He was a busy guy.


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Devil Costumes Are Traditionally Catholic, Too

In Mallorca/Majorca, they have a local saint called St. Catherine of Palma, or St. Caterina Tomas.

When she was still with them, she was the kind of saintly girl who bore patiently with being tormented by nasty people and poltergeisted around by devils. (Yes, there are quite a few folks like this in the saintly rolls. It doesn’t happen often, but they tend to get notice.)

Before she became a nun, she lived a perfectly normal life, albeit she was an orphan who got treated like Cinderella by her uncle’s family. After she became a nun, her whole convent witnessed a lot of bizarre demonic phenomena. The most notorious moment was when she was minding her own business, and suddenly got lifted in the air about thirty feet and then dropped down a well. This happened in full view of all the nuns while they were having a recreation period, and it pretty obviously wasn’t something the girl could do herself. (And did I mention that she was unhurt, other than being stuck down a well?)

On the bright side, she also had gifts of prophecy and healing, as well as ecstatic trances that lasted for days. Saints visited her and gave her advice, as well as healing any wounds the demons gave her. But yeah, obviously a lot more fun to be an ecstatic levitating kind of saint than to be the kind who gets bugged by demons all the time.

It took a while for her case to be fully researched, to the point that even the Vatican was embarrassed by how long it took. (It was mentioned in her canonization decree.) It took so long that she’s still known on the island as “La Beata” or “La Beateta.” But the Mallorcans always knew she was a saint. Her uncorrupted body is on display in one of the island’s churches.

Anyway, it used to be the thing for the entire island (or at least the younger people) to dress up in devil costumes on notable days associated with her life and run around outside in the spring weather, having fun and playing pranks on each other. Nowadays, they have a parade with floats depicting events in the saint’s life. A few notable girls are chosen to dress up as the saint (which is an honor), and the rest of the kids dress up as devils and try to scare the spectators. The adults just watch. At other festivals, the traditional devil costumes have sadly disappeared, and things are a lot more passive.

For Mallorca being such a tourist island, it’s really hard to find any pictures of the parades and costumes online. One supposes that such things are discouraged. (In this day and age, maybe it’s just discouraging photography of kids. But sometimes people also don’t feel like dealing with ignorant comments about their local festivals.) On the other hand, it seems that the devil costumes may be going away, just as the traditional boy singer of the “Cant de la Sibil-la” at Midnight Mass on Christmas has been replaced by adult female opera singers. (Which is dumb. You lose the “unearthly” vocal quality of a trained boy soprano, and you also lose innocence. I could maybe see a little old lady doing it, but sheesh.) However, the “Battle of the Moors and the Christians” at Soller and Pollensa on August 2nd is still a thing — grown men dress up as Muslims and Christians and mock-fight in the streets, commemmorating a local Christian victory over Muslim corsairs in 1550, and giving the credit to “Holy Mary of God’s Angels,” the island’s greatest patron saint.

Anyway, St. Catalina Tomas’ feastday used to be April 5th, but it’s now on April 1st. (Handily enough.) But on the island, she gets celebrated on days in late July (July 27-28 in her hometown of Valldemossa), September, and October, depending on the village.

Pictures of island tilework and statuary of her.

Little kids dressed in traditional Mallorcan costume for one of the tamer festivals.

Kids forced to sit still in a carriage wearing angel costumes for one of the tamer festivals. These are “triumphal cars,” representing the saint’s triumphal entrance into Heaven upon her death, with lots of attendant angels. Apparently the gig for the kids is carrying baskets full of goodies for the crowd, and getting goodies too. The girl sitting up top is the one dressed like St. Catalina Tomas.

Info about the annual fiesta in the village of San Margalida.

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Remember, Remember the… Feast of All Holy Relics?

Father Hunwicke tells us all about a feast once celebrated on various different days (including Old All Saints’ Day, May 13), and currently celebrated by Oxford Catholics on November 5th.

I can honestly say I’ve never heard of this feast before, but it makes total sense.

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Happy All Saints’ Day!

I hope everybody had a good All Hallows’ Eve and All Hallows Day! I did!

The British Museum is having a Mexican Day of the Dead “study day” broadcast tomorrow on All Souls’ Day.

Unfortunately, their whole Day of the Dead exhibit has focused mainly on dubious connections to Aztec religion (and let’s ignore every other tribe and culture in Mexico, shall we?), and some of the fringier rural festival customs. Naturally, they don’t show any of the similarities to traditional English All Souls’ Day customs, or the ones followed by the large UK Polish emigre population, or just plain Catholic/Christian stuff.

But there’s almost no point protesting this. Art museums always marginalize the unfashionably homey (and hence evil and oppressive) in favor of the fashionable (and hence regarded as “exotic” instead of hicksville).


here’s how you can pray for the souls in Purgatory the next few days and get them a plenary or partial indulgence! Don’t forget to go to Confession!

(And no, this isn’t magic. This is the Church using its authority, to allow us on earth to team up with the merits of the saints in heaven, in order to help the souls in Purgatory. And the souls in Purgatory will of course pray for us, too, so it’s a big circle of friendly oneness in Christ. Be part of it.)

Visit cemeteries, whether or not they’re Catholic, and pray for the folks there! From November 1 to November 8, you can get a plenary indulgence for them. (And on any other day of the year, you can get them a partial indulgence, so don’t forget to visit and pray!)

And of course you can always get indulgences for yourself and for the dead by normal stuff that you can do all year round, like praying the “Eternal rest grant to them, O Lord” prayer, or saying the Rosary together, or reading the Bible and contemplating it for thirty minutes. But the Church knows that we need schedules and deadlines and drama, so we have seasonal pilgrimage-type indulgence activities, too.

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My Christian Halloween FAQ

1. Is Halloween a pagan holiday?

Only for Wiccans who have (mis)appropriated a Christian holiday, the Eve of All Saints Day.

2. No, really. Is it pagan?

Well, I wouldn’t call the Lutherans pagan for their (mis)appropriation of All Hallows’ Eve as “Reformation Day.” But if that floats your boat….

3. But I totally heard it was pagan! And Celtic! And called Samhain!

So did I. Victorian folklorists lied to us. The truth is that Halloween celebrates the transfer of All Saints’ Day from its date on May 13 (the anniversary of the consecration of the pagan Pantheon temple as a Christian church in AD 609) to the more Roman-convenient date of November 1. This happened in the 730’s in Rome, as the pope was dedicating a new All Saints’ chapel there. Meanwhile, the various Eastern churches celebrate All Saints (Agion Panton) on the first Sunday after Pentecost; but earlier dates included the Friday after Easter and individual dates in various dioceses. The early Christian date in Ireland was April 20 (which may have been an even earlier Roman or French date for it).

So the holiday on its current date is Italian, then French and German, and only spread to Ireland on its current date fairly far into medieval times. People don’t seem to have started the masks, the door to door begging for alms, the bonfires, the playing bobbing for apples, or the carving turnip lamps until centuries afterward.

However, those same customs (wearing masks and costumes, carving turnip lamps with candles inside, bonfires, apple games, and the like) are popular European Christian holiday activities associated both with pre-Lent carnivals and with late summer and fall saints’ days. For example, in France and Germany, St. Martin’s Day traditionally was associated with many of the activities we associate with Halloween. (As well as with many things we associate with Thanksgiving, because it comes right after their harvest and their traditional poultry-butchering season. Hence the Martinmas goose. But I digress.)

Begging door to door for candy and cakes is also associated with Christmas in many countries, or with building and operating a snapdragon for Rogation Day in the middle of the summer. These examples of children collecting alms for themselves are basically a play version of adult guilds and organizations collecting alms for the poor, which was the medieval custom and which continues in many places. UNICEF obviously isn’t a Catholic organization and neither do I advise that Christians give them cash; but that’s why they ask kids to collect alms for them. (Which is why it’s so darned ironic that Protestant kids in England collected “money for the Guy” in order to let off anti-Catholic fireworks on the 5th of November. But never mind….)

4. But I heard that dressing up in scary costumes is pagan and supports the culture of death.

Actually, Christians have plenty of traditional Christian attitudes toward death and horror. Sometimes they like a little bit of memento mori (remembrance of death – literally, “remember death!”) so that they don’t get cocky, and they remember not to sin or become monsterish. Other times, Christians mock death as ineffective. Still other times, you get people refusing to acknowledge death; but if even Jesus cried for Lazarus when he was going to raise him up right away, that seems a little cocky. And Christians have always had the bones of the martyrs, and the other beloved faithful dead, visibly in and under their churches, ready for a visit. It’s only gruesome if you don’t believe in the Resurrection, or the blessed bones of Elisha.

We can act out the scary and sad parts of life without letting that be the whole story. Also, a little scare can be fun. (Here’s G.K. Chesterton on “The Nightmare,” an essay about horror.) I’m telling you, we need to get back to having snapdragon floats and banners on Rogation Day.

But it’s also nice to wear a cute costume, or a saint costume, or wear regular clothes. Do what you find fun and appropriate to the holiday; that’s what holidays and holy days are supposed to allow.

5. So what did pagan Irish people do on Samhain, if they didn’t dress up like goblins or carve turnips or give out candy?

Samhain, Samhuinn, or Samain [the unlikely folk etymology is that it means “summer’s end,” from sam (summer) + fuin (end), but really it may be related to an archaic word for “assembly” because the ancient Gauls used to call it Samonios] was one of the four harvest festivals in Ireland, as well as the separation day between the warm and cold times of the year. But it’s not clear whether or not it was associated with the dead in pagan times, because we really don’t have anything contemporary about it.

We do know that it was one of the days when people paid their debts and paid their taxes to the local king; it was also associated with legislation and court judgments. (If you read up on quarter-days and cross-quarter-days, you’ll find out that all of Christian Europe had similar law and debt days, which we can blame on both practicality and the Romans.)

The actual pagan thing that we do know about is that the Feis Temra, the feast at Tara (and similar feasts at other royal sites) when the local king ritually “married” the land or the sovereignty goddess, was at Samain. (If the king was lucky, he didn’t have to do it with a horse and then sacrifice and eat the horse. But that’s what they allegedly did in one of the kingdoms. Ew.)

Attending these law and pagan-ritual festivals for the seven days around Samhain seems to have been compulsory, probably because it made you acknowledge that the local king was your king and you followed the local laws. It does seem that legend held that the doors to the Sidhe hills and the Otherworld were always open to go either way on these days; but in context, this seems to be associated with the fact that everybody was traveling to see their kings, so nobody was going to get in your way in Faerie or on earth. It was Important Business Time.

So I suppose you could argue that sexy costumes, paying taxes, or going to Congress on Halloween are related to pagan rituals. But candy and scary costumes are okay!

6. But… our Election Day is right about the same time as Samhain. Does that mean that Election Day is pagan?

No. It means that civic business is best done in the short period between Harvest Is Too Much Work So I Can’t Leave for Town, and It’s Too Cold to Travel So I Can’t Leave for Town. Grace builds on nature, and God doesn’t change the weather patterns for the benefit of Christians. (And Christian Irish kings still collected their taxes and had law assemblies on November 1.)

7. So how did a church festival and an Irish law day turn into bobbing for apples and costumes?

Boredom. (And the destruction of local Irish and Scottish government by the English. And the urge to have parties. But mostly boredom. There was a time in the US when Halloween was a holiday of destructive pranks, for instance, and we don’t want that coming back. So don’t let your kids get that bored.)

PS. What’s that Felire thing say?

The Felire of Oengus the Celi De says that November 1, “blessed Samain” [“samain slanaig”] or “stormy Samain” [“samain sianaig”] was the feastday of Ss. Lonan, Colman, and Cronan, whom he describes as “the host of Hilary” [St. Hilary of Poitiers, who legendarily trained and sponsored a lot of missionaries for Ireland].

“Lonan, Colman, Cronan
with their bright sunny followers —
the hosts of Hilary, many, sure,
ennoble stormy Samain.”

He says that October 31 (or rather, October 30, by his reckoning) was the feastday of St. Quintinus, a Roman martyr, and of the martyred abbot St. Faelan (aka Foillan), brother of the better-known St. Fursa.

“Quintinus fair, crucified;
Faelan with many bands of men,
with a host of fathers, they declare;
October’s high ending.”

And here’s what Oengus says about All Saints’ Day on April 20:

“Day of the suffering of Herodius,
priest who crucified desire;
Feast in Rome – that noble town –
of the whole of the saints of Europe.”

So apparently somebody in Rome was supposedly celebrating it on April 20, before the whole Pantheon re-dedication thing. Not surprising, if it’s accurate.

Here are some previous Halloween posts:

“Shony On, Harvest Moon”: on the tragic misinterpretation of a St. John devotion at Halloween in the Hebrides.

“Barmbrack for Halloween”: discusses various Halloween customs.

Foxfier, friend of this blog, also talks about Halloween in her monthly column, and includes a link to my St. Mena post. 🙂


Filed under Church, Halloween, History, Saint Stories


It’s a little late for this year, but next year you could be eating Seelenbrezen for All Souls’ Day. Or Seelenkranz, or Seelenwecken. Some are shaped like pretzels but are really more of a sweet yeast bread or a cookie. Some are braided rings or stollen-type braids. There are also savory versions. Here is one version on a seasonal specialty page for a bakery named Cafe Madlon. (Other feastday goodies include Martinsgans cookies (St. Martin’s Geese, for St. Martin’s Day on Nov. 11), St. Sylvester’s Day pigs, and Fasching (Mardi Gras) doughnuts.)

Seelenwecken (Souls-waking) is pretty much just a diamond-shaped cookie filled with chocolate, jam, cream or some other goodie, which your godparents would give you on All Saints and on Easter, until you turned 14 or 15 and were considered an adult. You usually also received money on both feasts. It’s a Bavarian thing. Here’s an article about them.

Allerseelenweckerl is a yeast bread loaf, braided in three, with powdered sugar on top and sometimes raisins. This was another gift for godchildren. Here’s an article about it with a recipe.

Here’s a news story with giant Seelenbrezen in Augsburg. It used to be traditional to leave these Souls-pretzels on the graves of relatives and friends you visited (or even to hang them from a cross gravemarker) as well as to give them to children. In Swabia, godmothers still bake sweet yeast bread “soulbraids” (Seelenzoepfe) for their godchildren. Seelenbrezen often have icing or a sugar glaze, or are made with nuts sprinkled on top, but they are also made in every possible variation.

This Seelen recipe is pretty much just yeast bread, sprinkled with coarse salt and caraway seeds. (It says that this was originally made with spelt flour.)  But it also mentions the “grosse Seele”, the great soul, which men sent to their sweethearts as a sort of tangible marriage proposal. This was a bar 20 cm long and 5 cm wide, buttered on top and sprinkled with salt and cumin. Then there was Seelebrot or Hungerbrot, alms for the poor for the sake of the Poor Souls. There was also the “suesse Seele,” the sweet soul, which godparents sent to their godchildren to encourage them to pray for poor souls.

Here’s a recipe from in Austria for a sweet Seelenbrezen with a bit of a rum taste for us adults. I converted the measurements and translated it with help from Google Translate, but those of you who know how to bake should keep an eye on things. I assume that 350 degrees and keeping an eye on the oven will get you there.

Dampfl (yeast mixture):

4 1/4 Tbsp. (lukewarm) = 1/16 liter
1/8 cup fresh yeast = 30 grams
2 Tbsp granulated sugar (Rieselzucker) = 2 Estoeffel
1 Tbsp flour = 1 Estoeffel

Add the lukewarm milk to crumbled yeast and stir until it is dissolved. Add sugar. Stir again. Sprinkle flour over the surface. Cover dampfl and leave it in a warm place until it has risen twice as big. (Use a large bowl that will have room for rising more than twice as big.)


4 cups flour = 500 grams
1/4 cup plus a skosh of margarine or butter = 60 grams
3 egg yolks (save the egg whites for brushing on)
some rum
Dampfl from above
lemon peel
vanilla sugar
rum-soaked raisins
2 1/2 tsp. milk (lukewarm) = approx 1/8 liter

Sift flour into a bowl. Add the milk-butter mixture (lukewarm!), the egg yolks, the spices and goodies, and the Dampfl. Beat it all well with a wooden spoon until the dough stops sticking to the bowl and wooden spoon. Sprinkle it with flour and let rest. The dough should rise twice as big.

Now take it out of the bowl, knead it, and form it into the shape of a pretzel, a braided ring, or a braid (like a stollen or striezel) – whatever you like. Leave it in a warm place again. Then brush the top with eggwhites for a shiny look and sprinkle with coarse sugar, or sprinkle nuts on top, or whatever you like.

Bake until done at 356 ° F (middle rack) = 180 ° C.

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German All Saints’ Day Customs

Germany has some neat ones!

In some places, it’s the custom for a godfather or godmother to give the godchildren a special sugary cake, a lot like ones made for Christmas. The same goes for Confirmation sponsors and their sponsored candidates.

In Mainz, people bring giant striped cone-shaped candles to burn at their relatives’ graves (because cemeteries are blessed in the afternoon on All Saints’ Day). They also carry them in processions, in a version wound around sticks. This joyful candle is called a “Newweling.”

All Saints’ Day is a public “quiet” holiday in Germany. People get the day off.

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“Naruto SD: Rock Lee” takes on Halloween

The Naruto spinoff, Naruto SD: Rock Lee and His Ninja Pals, where all the Naruto characters run around doing comedy cartoon stuff in chibi form, just did a Halloween episode.

Actually, the first part is a Fall festival of ninja safety, cracking on driver safety programs in Japan. In the second part, the Leaf Village throws a “Western-style” Halloween party. In a classic cross-cultural moment, they describe Halloween as “an American O-bon.” And later on, we see exactly what they think that means. (Which incidentally goes to show exactly what kind of similarities and differences lie between a natural-law or pagan feast about the dead, and a Christian one. Comedy has a way of showing people the uncomfortable truths about their little platitudes, like unthinking comparisons between Halloween and O-bon.)

Anyway, the true sticking point turns out to be recreating Trick or Treat, as traditionally raised Japanese kids aren’t supposed to pester adults or beg them for goodies. So they try reallllllly hard with the whole Beggar’s Night thing, which leads to the inevitable crossover with the Little Match Girl. (The Japanese love “The Little Match Girl” and all the other sad Andersen stories. I guess because Hans Christian Andersen is also totally into the dying protagonist thing.)

It was a very bizarre piece of anime, but also a revealing one. It’ll be available to all viewers next week, just in time for Halloween!


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All Souls’ Day

Remember to pray today for those folks still having their robes washed clean and their lips purified on their way into the Presence of God. They are praying for you.

A little something from St. Beatus, while we’re at it. He’s talking about anti-Christological and anti-Trinitarian heresies running around Spain back in the day, and how they don’t go too well with the white robes of baptized Christians. (And notice that he also assumes the albs of the saints are wool, which is a suitable image for Asturias’ sheep-filled mountains.) But I think it also works for sin:

“….all Christians within the Church spin and weave [their] fleeces from this same spotless and perfect Lamb, and as if under the Name of the Trinity — that is, of the warp, the thread, and the weft, of one substance of wool — they assert God in the Trinity to exist. (4)

“But still this wool — what is seen to be better? — is darkened the color of diverse dyes by the diverse colors of heresies. Some may smile for vermilion, others green, others saffron yellow, others scarlet, others to some variegation to a red or black color.

“Yet they are washed; they are finished by a period of abstinence; they try hard to weave lamb fleeces into whitened candidate robes.

“For when [a robe] made of whitened lamb fleece is darkened by a dye of diverse color, these are heresies, which are more than a harmless changing and variegating of colors [on] a robe made of snowy wool; the dyes always stain them with bitterness.

“But made out of the one wool of Christ, to whom they surely had owed it to become bright, they are changed into a cut-off sect of foolishness. Out of the perfect pure whiteness of the one yearling lamb fleece they are born into, their robes are transformed by many sects and heresies, by whose workshops they may become worthy of condemnation.

“But as much as they will darken themselves, profaned by the flowery colors of heresy, He will put together medicinal herbs and take off the paint. After that, you will have the leaves picked out of [your] fleece by Christ the Lord, on the double.”


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Halloween Hostage Standoff in Iraqi Catholic Church

A bunch of al-Qaeda types attacked the Iraqi Stock Exchange, were driven off by security forces, and ran into Our Lady of Deliverance church, shooting up random congregation members on the way. They then holed up in church with the congregation as hostages. Iraqi security forces ended the standoff by storming the building.

US estimates were that nine hostages were killed and thirty wounded, including a priest (apparently injured in the initial sprays of bullets when the insurgents ran into church) and a nun. Seven Iraqi security guys were killed, and five insurgents. Numbers apparently vary wildly from non-US sources.

Yup, just another Sunday goodwill tour for those charming Iraqi “insurgents”.

CNN has pictures of the church.

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Bone Cookies!

In the annals of dessertdom, there are some awfully strange goodies. A lot of them are connected with festivals of the saints, or with religious houses named after them. For instance, the famous Madeleine cookies so loved by Proust, the cannonball-shaped loukoumades claimed by Greeks as appropriate for St. Barbara’s Day, the zeppoli and sfingi of St. Joseph, and the wonderful skeleton marzipan made for All Souls’ Day, the Day of the Dead.

But here’s one I hadn’t heard of — Huesos de San Espedito, aka St. Expeditus’ Bones.

No calcium is harmed in the making of these Spanish cookies. Instead, they make anise/lemon dough as if for a sort of springerle bread (remember that Spain used to be joined with Austria-Hungary!). Then they let it rise a bit, roll it into long thick “bones”, fry the bones in olive oil, and turn them bone-white with powdered sugar.

So basically, funnel cakes that don’t rely solely on the taste of sugar, carbs, and grease. Sounds like a pretty good festival food, huh?

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Everybody Go to Columbus Next Halloween!

The World Fantasy Convention, which moves about to different exotic destinations each year, will be in Columbus, Ohio on the weekend of October 28-31, 2010. It looks like it’s being chaired by a local bookdealer (fitting!).

The Hyatt Regency in downtown Columbus is a pretty good-sized convention hotel, conveniently situated near highways and food, and about three-four blocks away from St. Patrick’s. The World Fantasy Convention is also a lot smaller and more convenient than the World Science Fiction Convention for meeting your favorite writers. So it’s probably going to be a really good deal.

(OVFF and the Deep in History Conference are both the weekend before this, and in different locations. In case you wondered, since this blog probably has readers overlapping with either or both.)

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