Celebrating Halloween, All Saints, and All Souls
The ancient Celts, who invented our Halloween celebration, were particularly sensitive to the turning-points of the year. They had to be, for their survival depended on their knowledge of the growing season, the movements of the sun, the seasons of rain and snow, the necessity of bringing in the harvest and somehow making that harvest last all winter!
In the gradual change from autumn to winter, October 31 is such a turning point. A new season is beginning—a somewhat difficult season, to be sure. Winter and cold are no joke. Yet we look to our ancestors, the saints, and our own dearly departed, to help us get through it. And so these late autumn days are marked with remembrance of those gone before us: the saints on November 1, and the Holy Souls on November 2.
In ancient times, the eve of All Saints (All Hallows Eve, or Halloween) became a day of celebration for Celtic Christians. People dressed up as the saints they would honor the next day. The nemesis of all the saints, the devil, also made an appearance. Skeletons, ghosts, and other images of death appeared.
We who understand the original meaning of the feast of All Saints can still rejoice in celebrating Halloween because of its deeper meaning: Christ and his saints have conquered evil, and death is followed by new life. We can celebrate Halloween, All Saints Day, and All Souls Day because we no longer are frightened by the reality of death.
Death can be painful, and we suffer loss from it. As well we should. Each human being is unique and irreplaceable. But our faith in Jesus Christ, and his resurrection, assures us that life is transformed rather than ended. Death is a passageway to new life. This is what Halloween, and All Saints Day, and All Souls Day teach us.
May your celebrations of Halloween, All Saints Day, and All Souls Day be blessed with grace and peace!
The following activities may help you and your students to celebrate Halloween, All Saints Day, and All Souls Day with faith in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Halloween/All Saints Day Activity
Goal: To help the children understand the meaning of Halloween and All Saints Day by participating in a procession of saints.
- Books about saints
- Nametag for each child (stick-on or index card with pin)
- Song or recording: “When the Saints Go Marching In”
- Begin preparing about three weeks ahead of time. Speak with your class about the real meaning of Halloween as “All Hallows Eve,” a day to honor all the saints (“all hallows” means “all holy ones”) by dressing up as a favorite saint.
- Ask each child to think about a favorite saint and be ready to choose a saint to “be” for a Halloween procession of saints.
- Bring books or pictures of the saints so that the children might choose a saint. Talk to the group about their given names if their names are the names of saints.
- Give the children the target date of the procession. Ask another teacher or teachers if you may visit their classrooms on the day of the procession and show the costumes.
- Consider providing a snack for those participating to enhance the celebration.
One Week Before the Procession
- Ask each child to choose a favorite saint to honor in the procession.
- Keep a list of these saints and prepare a nametag (the stick-on kind or an index card) for each saint.
- Explain to the children that they are to come to class wearing or carrying their costumes and that they will be given time to get ready.
- Give the children time to change into their costumes.
- Distribute the “saints’” name tags.
- Ask the children, if time permits, to share something about their saint with the class. Share your own knowledge as appropriate.
- Lead the children in a procession around the room (if possible, find a recording of “When the Saints Go Marching In” as musical accompaniment). Lead the children into other classrooms for a procession and finish back in your classroom with a snack.
- Invite the children to wear their costumes to the All Saints Day Mass, if permitted. It might be possible for them to join in the Entrance Procession and the procession at the end of the liturgy.
All Souls Day Activity
Goal: To help the children celebrate All Souls Day in a prayerful session of “praying with the Church” as they remember and pray for those in their families who have passed away and are now living in eternity.
- Large white candle (real or electronic)
- Flower wreath for base of candle
- Small index cards
- Share the meaning of All Souls Day with your group. Explain that, beginning with November 2, All Souls Day, the month of November is a month given to prayer for the Holy Souls in Purgatory. We proclaim our belief in the resurrection of the dead and in Heaven in the Creed every Sunday. This belief is celebrated in a special way during the entire month of November.
- Explain that we pray for those who have died, knowing that their true life is no longer on earth but in eternity with the resurrected Christ. Tell the children that we pray for those who have died because we love them and do not want to forget them. They are still part of us, and we want them to be happy with Christ forever.
Beginning of the Session
- Prepare by placing a large battery-powered candle in the space, surrounded by a wreath of flowers. Lower the lights and the shades in the classroom so that the candle’s light can be a focal point. Remind the group that this candle is a symbol of the Light of Christ and his resurrection.
- Distribute an index card to each student. Instruct the group to write their own names on one side. Then invite them to write the names of family members, friends, or others who have died that they would like to remember. Give a few moments for this.
Prayer and Reading of Names
- Begin with this or a similar prayer:
Lord Jesus, we are celebrating All Souls Day with the Church by remembering those who have died.
We know you are our risen Lord, and our Good Shepherd, and that you love and care for each person who has died.
Bring them into your presence forever. Amen.
- Invite the children to take turns standing, reading their names, and placing their cards around the wreath. (You might want to ask them to fold the cards in half and stand them up, like a small tent.)
- Remind the children that this is a special time of prayer, and that they should respect the reader of each person’s names, just as we want our family’s names to be respected.
Ending the Session
- End the session with this traditional prayer, asking that the children repeat each line after you:
Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, (repeat)
And let perpetual light shine upon them. (repeat)
May they rest in peace. (repeat)
- Invite the children to take their cards home, as a reminder to pray for their dearly departed.