Halloween has great significance in the Harry Potter series, especially in the first four books. In Harry’s first year at Hogwarts, the troll is set loose on Halloween. In his second year, he goes to Nearly Headless Nick’s Deathday party, and Mrs. Norris is petrified. In his third year, Sirius Black slashes the Fat Lady with a knife. In his fourth year, Harry’s name is picked out of the Goblet of Fire. In the seventh book, we learn that Harry’s parents were killed on Halloween. The most simple explanation for the importance accorded to Halloween is that it is a day we all associate with witches, magic, and scary events. Although these are all relevant explanations, the history of Halloween itself may give us more information which we can use to further analyze its significance in the series.
Halloween, also known as All Hallow’s eve, was originally a pagan tradition, but soon became christianized. Halloween is the eve of the Christian feast days of All Hallow’s Day and All Soul’s Day. In early traditions, people believed that the souls of the departed wandered the earth until All Saints’ Day. For this reason, it is very fitting for Nearly Headless Nick to have his deathday party on Halloween. JK Rowling has made it clear that these ghosts represent souls that have decided not to move on, and are therefore stuck in a transitional space between life and death. In keeping with this tradition, some people believe All Hallows’ Eve provided one last chance for the dead to gain vengeance on their enemies before moving to the next world. This explanation connects to Sirius Black’s attack on the Fat Lady in the third book. It is not a coincidence that Sirius planned his attack of Peter Pettigrew to be on the same day that Lily and James were killed. It is clear that Sirius considered this his act of vengeance, with which the souls of his friends could be put to rest.
All Soul’s Day is not all about wandering spirits and vengeance, however. The purpose of this day is to remember the dead, specifically saints, martyrs, and departed believers. Therefore, the fact that Lily and James died on Halloween connects them to a holy status, and implies that they were martyrs for their cause. For further evidence, just look at the name of the home where they were killed: Godric’s Hallow. Godric means “rules with God.” The definition of Hallow is “a saint or holy person.” Therefore, although Halloween is connected to drama, danger, and death in the Harry Potter series, it is most importantly connected to honoring the spirits of departed heroes and loved ones.
If you’re interested in more Halloween Harry Potter treats, check out Pottermore! In celebration of the holiday, JK Rowling released Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, which includes exclusive new information on Dolores Umbridge, Thestrals, and Ministers of Magic!