Skip to main content

Taking Back Halloween in “Astonishing” Fashion


"Halloween was confusing. All my life my parents said, 'Never take candy from strangers.' And then they dressed me up and said, 'Go beg for it.'" ~ Rita Rudner

I’d venture to say that Ms. Rudner’s comedic confusion regarding Halloween is far from an isolated incident. For many in our midst, there is a prevailing belief that Halloween is a celebration of pagan origins when in reality, Halloween was formerly called All Hallows Eve and the beginning of Christian Hallowtide of All Hallows Eve, All Saints Day, and All Souls’ Day.

The word “hallow” means holy. “Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name.” (Matthew 6:9). Like Christmas Eve, All Hallows’ Eve is the Vigil celebration of a Holy Day, in this case All Saints Day which is recognized and celebrated as a Solemnity in the Catholic Church. Hallows Eve is a time when Catholics celebrate the triumph of the Church in heaven as well as the lives of the Saints, canonized and non-canonized.

Many of the customs today have been secularized and have thus lost their true Catholic meaning. Children for instance used to go door to door on All Hallows Eve “souling,” which is to say they went asking for alms of Soul Cakes to pray for deceased loved ones in return. As they made their way, processional candles were carried in hollowed-out turnips or gourds which helped to shelter the flickering flames from the late October Autumn winds. These activities would serve as a reminder of our own mortality and how important it is to pray for the Holy Souls in Purgatory

As we find ourselves on the cusp of All Saints Day, I’d like to share with you the story of a relatively unknown Saint, a tale that would seem to be particularly appropriate on this Eve of All Hallows, for hers is an utterly fascinating tale which in and of itself is downright spooky at times.

Saint Christina the Astonishing
(1150–1224) was said to have died three times according to biographer Thomas de Cantimpré’s “Vita Christina Mirabilis.” This book was completed and published eight years after her (final) death. The first time she died, God asked her to take on suffering in order to save souls. Legend has it that she was resurrected during her Funeral Mass and floated to the ceiling of the church, apparently unable to stand the smell of sinful human flesh.

For years she suffered agonizing pain, this despite any visible damage being done to her body. Later, when a close friend of Christina’s, Count Louis of Looz, was on the verge of death, he astutely called her into his room and told her about his vast multitude of sins in a desperate final plea to move her to pray for him. After his death, he appeared to her, asking her for help with purgatory. She promptly agreed to suffer half his punishment.

“Having taken on these burdens,” wrote her biographer, according to a 1986 translation by Margot H. King, “you might have seen Christina in the middle of the night being tormented with burning smoke and at other times with freezing cold. Indeed, she suffered torments in turn according to what the soul of the Count was suffering.”

Scroll to Continue

At the time of her second death, she was an elderly woman living in a convent. She returned when the Superior of the convent publicly rebuked Christina for not answering a question she had asked her before she passed away. Christina returned, promptly answered her Superior’s query, then died for the third and final time.

Understanding full well that Christina’s story would bring unending skepticism, particularly amongst non-believers, her biographer issued the following statement:“We admit ~ and it is true ~ that our account surpasses all human understanding inasmuch as these things could by no means have occurred according to the course of nature, although such things are possible to the Creator.”

There is and always will be something joyful, something special about Halloween. Author Robert Brault once said "There is a child in every one of us who is still a trick-or-treater looking for a brightly-lit front porch." American short story writer Steve Almond echoed the sentiments of many when he concluded "Nothing on earth is so beautiful as the final haul on Halloween night."

But as Catholics, we need to take back Halloween, or perhaps I should say All Hallows Eve. Somewhere between the ballerina and pirate costumes, the Snickers and Twix bars, I encourage you to inject some holiness into the mix, for everything we do we must do with holiness.

We can learn the stories of the Saints and in turn tell people about them. We can pray for the Holy Souls in Purgatory with increased fervor. We should certainly go to Mass as it is a Holy Day if Obligation, and we can encourage our children dress as their favorite Saints, maybe even throwing a Saint party to honor and give thanks for these great people, the canonized and non-canonized that have so greatly inspired us. They have shown us the way. We in turn must show our gratitude while helping them to continue their desire to show others the way.

Saint Christina the Astonishing, pray for us….

The remarkable “Christina the Astonishing”

The remarkable “Christina the Astonishing”

Related Articles