During medieval times, pagans were viewed as Satanists and witches by the Catholic church. As a way to combat this, the church began altering pagan holidays to fit their Catholic ones.
Halloween is the Christian holiday with the most obvious pagan influence. Halloween, or All Hollow’s Eve, originated from the Celtic festival of Samhain (“sow-in”), “a celebration of the beginning of the Winter Half of the Year.” During the festival, which lasted from October 31 to November 2, it was believed that the “veil” between the living and the dead was weakened.
Samhain gave a way for Celts to honor and remember their loved ones. In my article “Night of Hallows”, the popular Druid (Celtic) priest Philip Carr-Gomn states that “The dead are honored and feasted, not as the dead, but as the living spirits of loved ones and of guardians who hold the root-wisdom of the tribe.” Those who celebrated Samhain “wore costumes, typically consisting of animal heads and skins, and attempted to tell each other’s fortunes. Crops were burned and animals were sacrificed.” Celts also constructed bonfires to commemorate their loved ones.
When the Church became aware of the festival, it immediately wanted a way to Christianize the holiday. According to History.com, “Pope Boniface IV dedicated the Pantheon in Rome in honor of all Christian martyrs, and the Catholic feast of All Martyrs Day was established in the Western church.”
The Pope was able to purify the three day festival by All Hallows Eve, All Saints’ Day, and All Souls Day. All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day are still celebrated in Catholic churches with special masses.
All Saints’ Day is considered a Holy Day of Obligation in which all members of the church must go to mass. The day not only recognizes saints, but honors the dead as well. Most masses will include special prayers and candle lightings to be done before or after mass, as seen in Samhain celebrations. All Souls’ Day is not a day of obligation, although it is still highly encouraged and recognized in the Church. Even with the holidays now secular celebrations, Catholics around the world still celebrate it by its religious roots.