Halloween: Neither A Trick Nor A Treat

Old and New Experiences
There are certain joyful events in our life which are deeply embedded in our memory. Some of those events are associated with particular celebrations or holidays. One such holiday is Halloween which has become part of every American child’s life experience. Interestingly, though, this holiday did not originate in America. It has come to us from Britain and Ireland, where ancient Celtic tribes observed a harvest feast on October 31 to mark the end of their old year, and the beginning of winter, and their new year on November 1. The Celts believed that in the late hours of October 31, the souls of the dead would come back to haunt their former homes, and those who now lived in them. Consequently, people would put on masks and other costumes, so that the dead would not be able to recognize them.

Fixing Things Up
This pagan view of the dead, as menacing ghosts who come to scare the living, was completely foreign to Biblical teaching, and Divine Revelation, as it has come down to us from our Lord through the Apostles in the Catholic Church. With the spread of Christianity, one of the ways to stem such pagan beliefs about the deceased was to move the Feast of All Saints (which had been celebrated on various dates) to November 1 with the commemoration of the souls in Purgatory (All Souls Day) on November 2. This change in the Catholic calendar took place gradually in the second half of the first millennium. Christians have always honored the saints who are in Heaven, and at the same time, have prayed for the souls of the deceased who were not yet in Heaven, but remained in Purgatory for the purpose of their total purification. Nevertheless, even with the Feast of All Saints and All Souls Day firmly established in the Church’s calendar, popular folklore would retain some elements from the pagan Celtic October 31 harvest feast. Moreover, people even started referring to this observance as “All Hallows’ Eve”the Evening before All Saints. This is how the ancient pagan celebration took on a Catholic name, while never really having anything to do with Catholicism. As time went by, the Celtic harvest feast was transformed into the present children’s version of Halloween: little boys and girls (and sometimes adults) would wear masks and dress up in costumes of devils, goblins, witches, black cats, and vampires to represent evil spirits whichas the Celts believedwould come to haunt people. This way Halloween has simply become nothing more than an expression of children’s imagination, and an occasion for fun and games. So that’s all there is to it. Right?

Not Quite
Everything which has been said thus far is part of the general knowledge about Halloween which is easily accessible. Even if some people are unaware of the historical background of the holiday, they can look it up in any encyclopedia, or on the Internet. But there is one important source of information about Halloween that very few people tap into. It is called: Exorcists.

Why Exorcists?
As soon as a lot of people hear the word “exorcist,” the first thing which comes to their mind is a Hollywood movie with this title, or maybe a thriller they watched somewhere. Even many Catholics do not realize that exorcists are Roman Catholic priests, appointed officially by the Diocesan Bishop to help people who are possessed or infested by the devil. Diabolical possession is something so serious and difficult to overcome, that only a priest-exorcist who has the authority to expel evil spirits can help get rid of it. Exorcisms performed by such priests consist of a series of prayers and blessings whose purpose is to force the devil out of a possessed person’s body. But exorcisms are nothing new: they are well attested to in Scripture. In addition, experience shows that cases of diabolical possession have sky-rocketed in our times all over the world.

So What Do Exorcisms Have To Do With Halloween?
Some priest-exorcists have been sharing their vast experience with the wide public, and have made it known that during exorcisms, Satan usually speaks through the possessed person. The devil makes known certain things which a lot of people would normally not be aware of. One of the important pieces of information which has been gathered during exorcisms has to do with Halloween. As it turns out, the night between October 31 and November 1 is a time when, all over the world, Satanic practice is on the increase, because on that night, the greatest number of satanic rituals are performed, especially so-called demonic “black masses” which are celebrated with the use of animal or even human sacrifice. So someone may say: “Okay, fair enough, but I have nothing to do with it. My children have nothing to do with it. How does this concern me and my children, if what we are doing on Halloween is just a game with my kids wearing all kinds of funny costumes?”

The Core of the Problem
Dressing up in costumes that stand for demons, goblins, witches, and vampires is not the same as putting on a mask with the face of J. F. Kennedy, or a shirt similar to the one used by Elvis Presley. Exorcists have been finding out that when we start playing with something that resembles Satan, and his demons, we open ourselves to these malevolent creatures’ influence, which is not just something psychological or intellectual in nature.1 Satan sees such behavior as an invitation on our part: an open door to his evil spiritual influence on the minds and souls of human beings. As exorcists confirm unequivocally, even if we are not consciously seeking demonic influence, it is still possible for us to be dangerously affected by it. Actually, it is a lot easier for the devil to enter into the mind of those who think nothing of things that “innocently” resemble the devil. So while it is true that there is an unhealthy intellectual and psychological aspect which negatively influences children dressing up in costumes of demons, witches, goblins, and vampires, there is an even more serious area which we should be concerned about: the spiritual aspect of demonic activity which appears innocent and harmless. It becomes more dangerous, because the innocent appearance of evil desensitizes us to what we are dealing with. Let us never forget that it is not only members of Satanic cults who enter into a spiritual relationship with Satan. A spiritual relationship with the devil can take place in various degrees. It does not always have to end up in diabolical possession. But, as exorcists warn, exposing kids to something which has some kind of a demonic connotation, draws the risk of entering into a relationship with the devil. It is like a slightly open window that a thief sees from a distance: for him it a signal which he interprets as an invitation to enter into the house. Dressing up children in costumes of all kinds of evil spirits and creatures, hanging pumpkins outside the house with evil faces carved on them, is like sending an invitation card to the devil by express mail. We can be assured that the devil will get interested in the invitation. But once he comes, it will not be that easy to fend him off.

So What Shall We Do?
We can try to imagine the following situation. Let’s say we see a freshly baked delicious cake, but we do not know that someone laced it with poison. We start eating it. Will the fact that we are not aware of the poison prevent us from getting sick, or even dying? Of course not. The poisonous effects will take their course regardless of our will or our awareness of what’s inside the cake. This is precisely what happens with Halloween, but with one exception. We are fortunate to have the information which more and more priest-exorcists are sharing about its tremendous danger. Knowing what we know now, who in his right mind would want to dress up his children in costumes of demonic creatures? Parents’ concerns should go in a totally different direction. Have we ever wondered why so many young people start drinking, taking drugs, fall into depression, end up in a bad company, and even commit suicide? Parents often say: “What have we done wrong? We have always tried to give our children a lot of love; we taught them respect and proper behavior. So what went wrong?”

While each situation could be analyzed separately, parents may be wise to ask themselves whether throughout the years that their children were growing up, they might have senselessly and naively exposed them to Satan’s influence which had appeared as something innocent, but was actually infiltrating their kids’ minds and souls more and more. We must never take the devil lightly. Playing with fire is neither a game nor a joke. But knowing this is not enough to protect ourselves from demonic influence. It is also necessary to be in the state of grace, and to be strengthened by the frequent reception of the Sacraments – especially Holy Communion and Confession. It is also important to wear the Miraculous Medal of the Blessed Virgin Mary and to have Holy Water in the house. We know for certain that the devil stays away from homes which have a crucifix in a prominent location on the wall and saints’ images hanging in various places in the housewith a pride of place given to the image of the Divine Mercy, the Sacred Heart, and the Immaculate Heart of Mary. All these things are crucially important in order to create an environment where all the members of the household are protected. Exorcists tell us that Satan does not visit homes where family members pray the Rosary together, where the Bible as well as the Catechism are read regularly, and where all in the family practice their faith diligently.

St. Paul’s Reminder
St. Paul writes in his Letter to the Ephesians that:

 …our struggle is not with flesh and blood, but with the principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits in the heavens. Therefore, put on the armor of God, that you may be able to resist on the evil day and, having done everything, to hold your ground. (Eph. 6:12-13).

Let’s face it: the “world” is at war with Christ, but it’s not just the world that we see on TV news reports. There is also an invisible evil world out there that we have to know about, and we cannot be naïve about its impact. Satan exists, but in order to harm us, he first has to create the impression that he exists only in our imagination, as a naughty creature with harmless horns, and a long tail. While it is true that there is no such thing as ghosts, or spirits of dead people coming to haunt us, it is also true that there are demons who are not the souls of the dead, but evil spirits whose only aim is to ruin us spiritually.

Doing The Right Thing
It is good to hear that more and more parishes and Catholic schools in America move away from Halloween for the above reasons, and put a greater emphasis on All Saints Day. On this occasion children are encouraged to dress up as the true heroes of history: saints and biblical figures. Nevertheless, while this is a good idea, it is also important for priests, religious, and parents to remember that this is a separate celebration from Halloween. Unfortunately, when children are exposed to minimum, or no spirituality in the home, it is no wonder that they are going to feel bad, and be surprised when other children, whom they know celebrate Halloween, while their own parents tell them that Halloween is not something good. Children will spontaneously, and more easily understand, that there is something wrong with Halloween when they start praying the Rosary, read the Bible, hear more about their patron saints, as well as guardian angels and, most importantly, when they look at their parents and see how devoutly they practice their Catholic faith. This is how the grace of God will work its way, not only into the child’s mind, but also into the child’s soul.

Teaching by Courageous Example
On September 13, 2015, a 43-year-old South African martyr, and a convert to Catholicism, by the name of Benedict Daswa, was declared blessed. He was a husband and a father of eight children. As a teacher and a school principle, he worked hard to spread the Catholic faith primarily through a virtuous life. Known for his opposition to occult practices, which were prevalent in the area where he lived, Benedict risked retaliation from those who insisted on adhering to devil worship. On February 2, 1990, while returning to his house, he was ambushed by a group of such people, who savagely clubbed him to death. As Benedict was dying, they gathered around him, and in an effort to increase his suffering, poured boiling water on his bleeding head, into his ears, nostrils, and mouth.

Sometimes, we may be under a lot of pressure to adhere to practices which have become so common that a mere opposition to them may draw a lot of criticism. All of us would like to have peace of mind, but at what cost? Blessed Benedict Daswa was a layman who would be the first one to remind priests, religious, and parents about the duty to be watchmen who have their eyes open. A good watchman sees danger when it approaches, but also has the courage to speak out, and resist anything that’s unbecoming to our Catholic faith. Let’s be prudent and vigilant. Let’s not be naïve at the face of the slightest semblance of evil. We cannot afford to be so. Our destiny ,and the destiny of our young people, may be at stake, both in this life and in the next.

  1. There are Catholic apologists, and other writers, who often refer to an interview with the Italian exorcist, Father Gabriele Amorth, which took place fifteen years ago. At that time, when asked about Halloween, he said that “if English and American children like to dress up as witches and devils on one night of the year—that is not a problem. If it is just a game, there is no harm in that.” While I have not met Father Amorth in person, I know from priests who have met him that he has changed his opinion on this matter. He now insists—on the basis of exorcisms which he has performed—that Halloween is highly esteemed by Satan, because it brings him a great joy.
Fr. Jacek Stefanski About Fr. Jacek Stefanski

Fr. Jacek Stefanski was born in Israel, and immigrated to the United States in 1982. He was ordained for the Diocese of Camden, New Jersey in 1994. After serving in several parishes in New Jersey, he went to Poland and was incardinated in the Diocese of Kalisz in 2003. Since 2004 he has been director of spiritual formation for seminarians in the diocesan seminary of Kalisz; he also teaches Scripture and biblical Hebrew there. In 2007, Fr. Stefanski earned his SThD in biblical theology from the University of Adam Mickiewicz in Poznan, Poland.


  1. I think the section on the history of the holiday is particularly weak. See http://www.crossroadsinitiative.com/library_article/784/Truth_about_Halloween.html for an okay overview.

    Also, there are no primary sources here. It’s essentially hearsay on the one hand, and inferences drawn from a general point through mere assertion.

    There are twenty ways to participate in Halloween. I hope Catholics don’t add “cowering in your house and waitinng until it blows over” into the mix.

    • Avatar Father Stefanski says:

      Dear DN, In all my years as a priest, it has always amazed me how far people would be willing go with their arguments in order to defend Halloween. Isn’t it interesting, that you point out the lack of primary sources in my article, although at the same time you are enclosing a link to another article which you consider an “okay overview”, while it, too, does not cite any primary sources? In fact, the link you provided to an article which seeks to present Halloween as a “Catholic” celebration not only adds to the confusion about Halloween, but is mind-boggling – historically and theologically, to say the least. I cannot imagine how anyone – not to mention a priest – could consider Halloween a Catholic celebration. Apparently, neither you nor the author of the article you are referring to in your link have ever talked to exorcists who know more than anyone else what Halloween entails, what it stands for and what its consequences are. What do you think Blessed Benedict Daswa would have to say to all those naive people who still think that Halloween is a cute children’s game? Finally, I am not sure what you mean by saying that “there are twenty ways to participate in Halloween”. For whom? For Catholics? Definitely not. A Catholic observes ‘All Saints Day’ and ‘All Souls Day’, not Halloween. We already have enough confusion among Catholics on many other issues. Let’s not add the occult to the list.

  2. Avatar Marija S. says:

    Excellent commentary, Fr. Stefanski. In 2010, I converted to the Roman Catholic Church, but when I was a Protestant our family never celebrated Halloween because we believed it was Satan’s holiday. However, October 31 was for us a celebration of “Reformation Day” for it was on October 31, 1517 that Martin Luther began the Protestant Reformation. Dates often seem to have significance and I’ve often wondered about October 31 being Halloween and Reformation Day. And now being Catholic, I only celebrate All Souls Day.

    • Avatar Father Stefanski says:

      Dear Marija, thank you for your kind comment. I was not aware of this connection between “Reformation Day” and Halloween. I, too, find it quite amazing. God bless you.