You still hear people doubt it, even when you declare that Halloween is a distortion of All Hallows' Eve which is the night before All Saints' Day. Some tell me they understand that pranks were a post-Reformation contribution to plague Catholics who kept the vigil of All Saints. Now it is possible that this may have been the case; nevertheless, during all the Christian centuries up until the simplification of the Church calendar in 1956, it was a liturgical vigil in its own right and thus has a reason for being.

It was in the eighth century that the Church appointed a special date for the feast of All Saints, followed by a day in honor of her soon-to-be Saints, the feast of All Souls. She chose this time of year, it is supposed, because in her part of the world it was the time of barrenness on the earth. The harvest was in, the summer done, the world brown and drab and mindful of death. Snow had not yet descended to comfort and hide the bony trees or blackened fields; so with little effort man could look about and see a meditation on death and life hereafter.

Apparently how you spent the vigil of All Saints depended on where you lived in Christendom. In Brittany the night was solemn and without a trace of merriment. Breton families prayed by their beloveds' graves during the day, attended church for "black vespers" in the evening.

Late in the evening in the country parishes, after supper was over, the housewives would spread a clean cloth on the table, set out pancakes, curds, and cider. And after the fire was banked and chairs set round the table for the returning loved ones, the family would recite the De Profundis (Psalm 129) again and go to bed.

It was in Ireland and Scotland and England that All Hallows' Eve became a combination of prayer and merriment. Following the break with the Holy See, Queen Elizabeth forbade all observances connected with All Souls' Day. In spite of her laws, however, customs survived; even Shakespeare in his Two Gentlemen of Verona has Speed tell Valentine that he knows he is in love because he has learned to speak "puling like a beggar at Hallowmas." This line must have escaped the Queen. 

Begging at the door grew from an ancient English custom of knocking at doors to beg for a "soul Cake" in return for which the beggars promised to pray for the dead of the household. Soul cakes were a form of shortbread. The refrains sung at the door varied from "a soul cake, a soul cake, have mercy on all Christian souls for a soul cake."

Charades, pantomimes, and little dramas, popular remnants of the miracle and morality plays of the Middle Ages, commonly rehearsed the folk in the reality of life after death and the means to attain it. It is probably from these that the custom of masquerading on Halloween had its beginning. The folly of a life of selfishness would be the message pantomimed by the damned; the torment of waiting, the message of the souls from Purgatory; the delights of the Beatific Vision, the message of the Heaven-sent. Together they warned the living to heed the means of salvation before it was too late.

Later, when paganism resurged the presence of goblins and witches with cats (ancient symbols of the devil) became prevalent. Too, before Christianity the pagans had always celebrated the harvest time with festivals, so it was naturally easy for them to adapt All Hallows' Eve for their celebrations anew.

The familiar harvest fruits, cornstalks, and pumpkins were seasonal. Although there is an old Irish legend about a miser named Jack who was too stingy to go to Heaven and too clever to go to Hell, so that he had to spend eternity roaming the earth with a lighted pumpkin for a lantern, the appearance of jack-o'-lanterns has always seemed much more reasonable than that. These were ages when death was a serious and acceptable meditation. Christian art shows skulls and bones as a commonplace of interior decoration, at least in the cells of the convents and monasteries. And thus the two traditions became mixed, especially in modern times when many people have a mixed-up sense of the sacred and what constitutes the true, the good and the eternal.

The three Saints above are, left to right: St. Jude Thaddeus, St. Aloysius Gonzaga, and St. Therese of Lisieux. St. Aloysoius is a summer Saint [His Feast is June 21,the beginning when the sun is at its zenith], thus the "hinge" for the other two Saints, both with October Feasts: St. Jude, October 28 and St. Therese, October 1.