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Halloween, or All Hallows' Eve? The holiday explained
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An icon representing St. Joseph holding a young Jesus. Halloween is actually All Hallow's Eve, or the day before All Saints' Day, which celebrates all saints of the Catholic church. - photo by Nick Bowman

Halloween got its start as more than just an opportunity for kids to meet their neighbors and have them plunk reconstituted sugar into a plastic pail. 

It started with the saints, and not that underperforming Louisiana team.

Before it fell into the hands of the candy companies, Halloween was better understood as All Hallow’s Eve, the day before All Saint’s Day — saints being “hallowed,” or made holy or sacred, in the Catholic church.

And after All Saints Day comes All Souls Day, where Christians remember all those who have died.

Together, the holidays are celebrated in Mexico and known as the costumed and recognizable Day of the Dead. The Mexican holiday runs the same range as the Catholic holy days, from Oct. 31 to Nov. 2.

The Rev. Eric Hill, priest at Prince of Peace in Flowery Branch, talked about the significance of the holy days, Halloween and the lesser known day of All Souls Day, which is marked on Nov. 2.

Q: What is All Saints Day?

A: So we celebrate All Saints — it’s an opportunity for us to celebrate all those who are in heaven with God. That’s what the definition of “saint” is: If you’re in the presence of God in heaven, you’re considered a saint, whether you’re declared by the church or not. So anyone who has died and is in heaven with God is a saint.

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The Rev. Eric Hill, priest of Prince of Peace Catholic Church in Flowery Branch. - photo by Nick Bowman

Q: So we have Mother Theresa and other saints, what makes them different?

A: They’re declared by the church. They’re formally declared as an official saint. We can say they’re officially in heaven, versus my mom, who has died. Whether or not she’s in heaven is unknown — for us as Catholics.

Q: Catholics also have “feast days” for individual saints. What are those days and how are they different than All Saints Day?

A: There are different designations for different saints. So, the more famous saints, so to speak, will have feasts. The apostles will have feasts, which means a festival or a celebration. Others have memorials — they’re lesser saints, so we remember them but they’re not to the level of a feast day like the apostle would be or a feast day like Mary.

Q: Why are saints revered? Why do Catholics set aside particular days for them? 

A: For us, it’s looking at that person’s life. There are actually people besides Jesus — and for us, Mary — who have lived good and faithful lives to God. We put them out there as examples to say, ‘You know what, even despite their struggles and difficulties and their own failings and faults, that they actually still lived a faithful life to God.

In our society, if you’re a pop star or a movie star or a sports star, we put them out there as these idols — we even use that word ‘idol;’ we ‘idolize’ them — out in the world. And we’re saying, ‘No, there are actually some people who lived this life who can show us through their writings, through their life, through their commitment, through their sacrifice, of how to live this Christian life.

Q: And tell us about All Souls Day.

A: All Souls Day is the day that we celebrate all those who have died. We have a day for all saints, all those who are in heaven with God, and we have another day that we remember all those who have died in our lives and our history in remembrance of those, and praying for those who have died.

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