The costumes are laid out. The house is overstocked with candy and goodies. There are decorations of jack o'lanterns, scarecrows, and here and there a fake witch with her broomstick stuck in a tree. It's all part of the fun and spookiness of Halloween.
Ghouls and superheroes roam about, and a child can be anybody (or almost anything) they want to be on this one particular night. It's a night where we love to scare ourselves to death and then laugh at our fear. But there was a more serious side to this night we call Halloween, and that is the celebration of the Eve of All Hallows.
Anyone familiar with Harry Potter will remember that he, Ron, and Hermione, went out in search of things called hallows, which they had to find in order to rid the world of the evil Voldemort. By definition "hallow" means to hold or revere as sacred or holy, and, as Harry knew it, an item that contained something considered holy or sacred like the relic of a saint. We don't use the term hallow much anymore. All Hallows Eve has become Halloween, the night before we celebrate the great feast of All Saints, giving thanks for all the recognized Saints of the church who were martyrs, teachers, preachers, missionaries, prophetic witnesses, theologians, and probably half a dozen more categories.
The day after All Saints is connected to it as All Souls Day. On that day we recognize and celebrate all those we would consider saints but who have not been officially canonized by the church. We remember family members, friends, and others who have gone before us and who have in some way touched our lives in a very positive way. The two days form a whole, each day a part of the other, completing a circle in which we remember the dead and celebrate their lives with thanksgiving
All Hallows Eve also is an occasion for celebrating El Dia de los Muertos. On this night members of the Hispanic community and others go to the graveyards where their family members rest. They carefully clean and tend the tombs and markers. In the Philippines, they hold a night long party where the dead are the honored guests, food is put out for them as well as consumed by the participating family members, music is played and sung, and children laugh and play tag among the graves. Other cultures have varied customs centering around remembering their dead. All around, it's a mixture of reverence, sadness, and joy, and it brings the whole family together once again. Tradition says that a very thin veil between the realms of the living and the dead occurs on that night, and it can be almost transparent.
El Dia de los Muertos resonates with me because at this time of year there seems to be a very thin veil between the realms of the living and the dead. There are some both capital-s Saints and lowercase-s saints that I feel with me throughout the year. On these two days, however, beginning with All Hallows Eve, I feel them just out of reach like the small gap between God and Adam that Michaelangelo painted on the Sistine Ceiling. It becomes a day of mourning for all those that I have lost. I remember them with joy but also sadness, and I commend them to God with all the love in my for each and every one of them.
I'm grateful that we have these days especially marked for remembrances. We have several great feasts of the church, and All Saints is definitely one of those. But I'm glad we also have a time to celebrate those who will probably never have a church named after them or a marker of some sort recording some episode in their life.
Holy cow. It just struck me that one day I might be one of those remembered on All Souls. It gives me a whole different perspective to think that I ought to be living so that at least one person will remember me with thanksgiving on All Souls. That's definitely a wake-up call, and not the ding-dong of the doorbell and the children holding out bags for treats. It's a scary though: me, even a lowercase-s saint? I better get to work.
Originally published at Speaking to the Soul on Episcopal Café Saturday, October 31, 2015.
Dedicated to the memory of all my saints: Alberta, Roland, Curtis, Ray, Sonny, both Helens, Mabel, and countless others.