Halloween bonfires dates back to the start of this ancient celebration. It symbolizes the Light of the World and the fires of the Holy Spirit. As we light it we remind ourselves to live in the Light of God’s presence.
Trick or Treat
From the English Catholics we get begging from door to door, the earlier and more pure form of “trick-or-treating.” Children would go about begging their neighbors for a “Soul Cake,” for which they would say a prayer for those neighbors’ dead.
And when he had made a collection man by man to the sum of two thousand drachmas of silver, he sent to Jerusalem to offer a sacrifice for sin, doing therein right well and honorably, in that he took thought for a resurrection. For if he were not expecting that those who had fallen would rise again, it were superfluous and idle to pray for the dead. (And if he did it looking to an honorable memorial of gratitude laid up for those who die in godliness, holy and godly was the thought.) Wherefore he made the atoning sacrifice for those who had died, that they might be released from their sin. 2 Maccabees 12:43-45
Instead of knocking on a door and saying the threatening, “Trick-or-treat” which is a greedy ugly way of blackmailing someone, children would say either: A Soul Cake, a Soul Cake, have mercy on all Christian souls for a soul cake! Or sometimes they would sing the entire song:
A Soul Cake, a Soul Cake; have mercy on
All Christen souls for a Soul Cake.
Soul Cake! Soul Cake! A Soul Caking we go!
We pray, good mistress, for a Soul Cake, Oh!
One for Peter, and Two for Paul!
Three for the One that made us all!
If you haven’t got a Soul Cake how about an Apple or two?
If you haven’t got and apple, a penny will do.
For harvest is coming and the geese are getting fat,
Please, good mistress, a penny for the old man’s hat.
If you haven’t got a penny, a ha’ penny will do.
If you haven’t got a ha’ penny,
Then my God bless you!
There was even a song for adults who used to go around caroling various hymns and then when people opened the door they would sing.
A soul, a soul, a soul for a soul cake
Come save a soul for a soul cake
One for Peter and two for Paul and three for the Lord who saves us all.
Put your hand in your pocket and draw out your keys
And dance to the cellar and draw what you please
Gives us cakes and ale and good strong beer and will come no more souling until next year.
It is said that a clever medieval cook wanted to make Soul Cakes designed to remind people of eternity, so she cut a hole in the middle of round cake before frying them in the Halloween bonfire, thereby inventing donuts. The Soul Cake, like all of the treats are ephemeral, because as these earthly treats will pass away they make us more mindful to store our treasure in heaven. The recipe for Soul Cake is in the Halloween Recipes post.
But why dress up for Halloween? Some say it was because people used to think that the demons were loose and you don’t want them to know who you are – which is utter nonsense! The costumes represent the wondering souls, so that they are remembered and prayers are said for them. This holiday is all about remembering the dead, because “One who has gone before do not cease to be one of the family,” as the saying goes.
A bit of desk pounding here: For this reason I feel that it is highly inappropriate for people to wallow in the grossities and “ooooh, soo spooky and evil – ha-ha” that surrounds this holiday. It is a beautiful celebration of our friends and loved ones who have found their eternal reward and for those in need of help to be invited into the one family of God! Not a holiday to disrespect the dead with severed heads and eyeballs in goo, and it is never, ever been a laughing matter to call upon the powers of darkness. This is not a holiday that is about death and evil – but life and Love! True Life! God’s Love!
It is said that at nightfall on All Hallow’s Eve when the barriers between the worlds of the physical and spiritual grow thin, the gates of Purgatory are opened. All of the souls of the dead are released. Some of the ghosts come to visit with family and friends that are still alive, to tell them that they are going to heaven. When dawn comes and light fills the world, angels take a good person’s soul in his arms like a little baby and smiles. The angels then take them to Heaven. And we celebrate from that dawn for two more days one for the saints and one for all the souls in Heaven.
Visit the Graves
Visiting the graves of loved ones is part of the holiday in some Latin American, and Asian countries. People dress up and have picnics in the graveyard, singing dancing and remembering the loved one that they have come to share the holiday with.
Make a Jack O’ Lantern (Jack of the Lantern)
Here’s the story:
The devil was wandering around trying to find someone who would give his soul away. It was so much less exercise than tricking someone. He would offer all kinds of things like money or wishes. One day he found a man named Jack. Jack was not a good guy, so the devil thought that it would be easy to get his soul.
“If you want my soul,” Jack said. “Then if you can climb up to the top branch of the tree then you can have it.”
So the devil started to climb the tree and as soon as he got up in the branches, Jack carved a cross on the tree and the devil was stuck.
“Let me down,” said the devil.
“I’ll let you down if you promise never to let me into Hell,” said Jack.
“Agreed,” said the devil and Jack cut out the cross so that the devil could get down.
After that Jack was even meaner than he was before because he knew he could never go to Hell. Well, eventually he died. And the devil wouldn’t let him in to Hell, but he was such a bad guy that Heaven wouldn’t let him in either. Going back to Hell, he asked if they would let him.
“We can’t let you in because we had a deal, but,” the devil smiled. “If you can get another bad guy to take your place outside of Hell, in Oblivion, I’ll let you in.”
“How am I supposed to find anybody when it’s so dark out here?” Jack asked.
So the devil gave him a small piece of Hell fire to light his way in the darkness of nothingness. Jack went back to the earth and put the fire in a hollowed out turnip, to use as a lantern. Jack, being the bad guy that he is, decided that he was going to find another bad guy to swap with.
In Ireland and Scotland, they began to carve their own turnips (it changed to pumpkins in America because of the color orange and they are easier to carve). The scary faces in the pumpkins were to frighten away any evil that was abroad that night. This is the same theory behind the medieval gargoyles that you see on churches. Evil has no love, which is God, and therefore live in fear, so they are easily scared away.
Make an Altar
If you do not already have an altar this is a perfect time to make one. All an altar is, is a sacred space set aside for communion with God, therefore what is on the altar is what helps you to concentrate on speaking to or listening to God. Some people have just a simple candle, others make altars so elaborate that the Vatican would be impressed. It is solely up to you (sorry, bad pun, couldn’t help myself).
At this season, many people put pictures of loved ones who passed, or tokens that have been passed down (great grandma’s wedding ring). All of these things are symbols to remind us to pray for them and with them. Remember, those who have passed do not cease to be family.
In my family we also say a prayer for all the people in Purgatory who have no one to pray for them.
Prayer for the Dead
Lord Jesus, our Redeemer, You willingly gave Yourself up to death so that all people might be saved and pass from death into a new life. Listen to our prayers; look with love on Your people who mourn and pray for their dead loved ones. Lord Jesus, You alone are holy and compassionate; forgive our loved one’s their sins.
By dying You opened the gates of life for those who believe in You; do not let Your brothers and sisters be parted from You, but by Your glorious power give them light, joy, and peace in heaven where You live for ever and ever. Amen.
Make a Catafalque
It used to be that there was an empty coffin, a catafalque, on the altar during the All Soul’s Day Mass. Prayers for absolution were given to help the soul along the journey to Heaven. The purification that the soul goes through could be symbolized by candle burning brightly beside or in the open catafalque.
Bobbing for Apples
Apples have become a symbol of the soul. It is thought that the fruit that Eve and Adam ate were apples, because if you cut an apple in half horizontally the seeds make a five pointed star. The five pointed star is known as the Bethlehem Star of Christmas and the Five Wounds of Christ of Good Friday. So bobbing for apples was originally a symbolic Christian game.
Snap the apples from out the bowl
Spite the devil and save your soul
Snap the apple from out the dish
Spite the goblins and get your wish
Close your eyes and repeat your wish three thrice and it will come to pass
And like birthday candles – you can make a wish if you get the apple out. Not an easy task.
Stories around the Bonfire
Telling of tales, the more fantastic the better, have always been told around campfires, bonfires, and home fires. It is a family way of entertaining each other. And again, we must remember family is never gone so we entertain them as well. The stories were sometimes called witch’s tales, what we now refer to as fairy tales, although now that you think about it, witches are far more prevalent in them.
“A witch’s tale and a cup of ale for the host of our guests unseen.”
Peace be with you.