"Hallows" is just an old English word for Saints", so "All Hallows" means simply "All Saints"; the old form is preserved in the dedication-names of some ancient English churches, like "All Hallows by the Tower" in London. "Hallowmass", the Feast of All Hallows or All Saints, falls on the first of November. "Hallowtide" refers to a slightly longer period, including both the Commemoration of All Souls which falls on the second of November, and All Hallows’ Eve – generally abbreviated to "Hallowe’en" – which falls on the thirty first of October.

The three observances – Hallowe’en, All Saints, and All Souls – should be seen together, like the three panels of a mediaeval altarpiece. The glorious central image of All Saints, the victory of the redeemed who enjoy everlasting bliss in the presence of God, is flanked by the two more modest images of Hallowe’en and All Souls which point to it and comment on it. If the serene and luminous picture of All Saints expresses our ultimate faith in heavenly joy, the two more sombre side-panels express our more immediate concerns with the state of the departed, concerns which reflect emotions both positive and negative: hope and fear, solace and anxiety, relief and guilt, a sense of abiding closeness and a sense of abiding loss – all the complex and self-contradictory feelings with which we view the mortality of others, especially of those to whom we have been close in this life, and with which we view the sure prospect of our own mortality.

The traditions of Hallowe’en focus on the negative emotions. Many of the customs which survive are pre-Christian in origin, but have survived in Christian cultures precisely because they articulate human fears which are natural and deep-rooted. In the old pagan Celtic calendar, the first of November was the feast of Samhain, the first day of the new year. The transition from the old year to the new was seen as one of those "liminal" moments when the normal order of nature was in temporary abeyance, and the barriers between this world and the other world were for a moment abolished: ghosts of the dead and other threatening spirits were given access to this world, and needed to be kept at bay by various apotropaic rites, often involving fires and other symbolic threats.

The purely Christian traditions of All Souls focus on the positive emotions. The Requiem Mass for the souls of all the faithful departed is the assurance that "neither death nor life... nor any other creature shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord." When we celebrate mass for the departed (we might rather say, when we celebrate mass with the departed) we know that if we are in communion with Christ, we are also in communion with all others who are in communion with Christ; in so far as we remain together in Christ, we can still be close to them, we can still pray for them as they can pray for us.

I know that many Christians have misgivings about some of the more pagan (and some of the more commercial!) observances of Hallowe’en as they are practiced in modern America. My own feeling is that even the most sinister-looking aspects of Hallowe’en are forgivable – are even commendable – if correctly understood in the larger context, as one part of the big picture, the big triptych, of Hallowtide.

- Fr Richard Bowyer, October 2010