October 31st is set aside as Halloween. It is not an official holiday (meaning government shuts down, banks closed, and many professional offices closed) but is celebrated nearly as one these days. There are really two separate Halloweens, one is secular and the other religious. The secular one most people easily understand. Kids dress up in silly or scary masks and go to homes asking for candy by yelling “trick or treat” to those who open their doors. Pumpkins have become associated with the day along with all kinds of scary decorations as well. Horror movies get shown during this time. Halloween has a religious meaning to that goes back to how the Catholic Church set the day up.
The original meaning of Halloween was All Hallows Eve that got contracted over time to Halloween. All Hallows Eve is the vigil of All Saints Day, a solemnity (meaning a major feast in the Catholic Church’s liturgical calendar). All Saints Day honors all the saints we know by name and any saint in heaven whose name is unknown to us. Originally this feast was celebrated on 13 May, but Pope Gregory III (731-741 AD) moved it to 1 November as that was the day the foundation of a new chapel (St. Peter’s Basilica) was being laid. He wanted to dedicate the new chapel to All Saints. Halloween then became part of a three-day period called ‘Days of the Dead” which it is the first day of (the vigil), then followed by All Saints and then by All Souls (those in purgatory).
During the reign of Pope Gregory IV (827-844 AD), he decided to make the feast of All Saints (just celebrated in Rome at that point) universal meaning all dioceses had to observe it. This meant that people with their own cultures would celebrate in their own ways. Since it was customary to have vigils before a major feast day, there was nothing unusual in this. In celebrating these particular holy days, we are reminded of heaven and hell. It reminds us that we have choices to make in this life that can lead to one of two outcomes: heaven or hell. By striving to live good lives by following God’s teachings, we want to go to heaven rather than the other place.
The roots of Halloween thus are not founded in any pagan celebration (such as Samhain or Druid festivals), and it is just coincidence that it occurs during the same time frame. If you study what those festivals were about, they had nothing to do with Christianity and followed a different belief system. However, some Protestants have made that case (that Halloween was a pagan festival co-opted by the Catholic church for All Saints and All Souls) to deny celebrating those holy days. The Puritans of New England forbade those to be celebrated along with Christmas and Easter. When Catholics from Europe began arriving in America, Protestants denounced such customs (celebrating Halloween, Christmas, and Easter) as pagan.
The English, French and Irish all brought their customs with them. The Irish loved carved Jack-o-Lanterns in turnips (changed to pumpkins since they are easier to carve!). The English had a custom of knocking on doors on Halloween for Soul Cakes and promising to pray for the departed of those who gave them these treats. All of these traditions began to meld here in America becoming the basis of much what is called Halloween today. It was also combined with harvest celebrations as well making it time of fun, spooky tales, bobbing for apples, and enjoying good company. Sadly, All Hallows Eve has been hijacked by those who use it for darker things such as violence, horror, and sexuality. Someone dressing up in sexually explicit garments or glorifying horror is not what Halloween was meant for (either religious or secular).
What has happened is the religious origins of Halloween have been completely overtaken and completely secularized.
That and the over commercialization of Halloween (it is a major marketing season for candy, apparel, haunted houses, and scary movies) has caused many faithful and concerned parents to shun those events and do things differently. That is why you are seeing more family friendly Halloween events and parties where those elements are not present. And doing some prayer in preparation for the feast of All Saints as well. Watching vulgar movies that glorify evil are avoided for ones that show good over evil or just plain fun (like the original Ghostbusters, the Good Witch movies). And telling some excellent ghost stories can also be fun as well.
Rossetti, Steven J. 2021. Diary of an American Exorcist: Demons, Possession, and the Modern-Day Battle against Ancient Evil. Manchester, NH: Sophia Institute Press.
Van Den Aardweg, Gerard JM. 2009. Hungry Souls: Supernatural Visits, Messages, and Warnings from Purgatory. Charlotte NC: Tan Books.
Baker, Robert A and Nickell, Joe. Missing Pieces: How to Investigate Ghosts, UFO’s Psychics, & Other Mysteries. 1992. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books
Thigpen, Paul. 2019. Saints and Hell, and Other Catholic Witnesses to the Fate of the Damned. Charlotte NC: Tan Books.