SIR – Hallowe’en is nowadays observed, sadly, in American secular, even pagan fashion as ‘Trick or Treat’ where impious children, dressed in the most frighteningly possible way, demand of householders a treat, perhaps sweets or money, or face having an annoying trick played on them.
This is regarded as fun for children, but can be a frightening experience for older people.
It is a shame that too often a positive religious festival sinks into negative, crass secularism. Mothers’ day, Fathers’ Day, days for grandmother and grandfather are other American examples.
The greetings card industry is bound soon to come up with ‘Ex-Wife’s Uncle’s Brother-in-Law’s Cousin Twice Removed Day’! (And there may well be more demand for that than golden weddings!)
But to return to Hallowe’en, its meaning is the Even of All Hallows, that is the evening before All Saints’ Day, which of course is a positive celebration of the glorious saints who have gone before us in the faith.
Saint Swithun, our (Winchester) Cathedral’s patron is one of our local saints; he was Bishop of Winchester in the ninth century.
The origin of a religious feast beginning the evening before goes back to early Jewish times, and Jesus and his disciples would have followed this tradition.
The Jewish day ended with the fading of light in the evening – the end of the day. Consequently the evening lighting of candles marked the start of the new day (not midnight).
This is why evensong (yes, with its candles) in our cathedral could be the first evensong of the following day, so long as it was, technically, in darkness (which at 5.30pm in winter, it is).
So Hallowe’en is followed by All Saints Day, which in turn is followed by All Souls Day, and this is an interesting story.
All Saints, being a major Christian festival, was celebrated in great, even extravagant style by the monks of the very wealthy abbey of Cluny in Burgundy (not far from the now better known Taizé).
The feasting lasted from the eve, throughout the day itself and into the second evening when of course a new day was beginning. The monks decided to continue their feasting through this second evening but had to find a further excuse for doing so.
They thought-up the idea that having celebrated the lives and deaths of the saints they would now celebrated the lives and deaths of all the good people who never achieved sainthood! That was all other souls and so the day was observed as All Souls Day.
That was in the 10th century. In the 11th century the Abbot of Cluny directed the tradition should be followed by all Cluniac priories, and thus eventually by the whole western Church.
We continue today to observe All Souls after All Saints.
Philip Baxter, Lymington