Sunday, November 1, 2015

Halloween, All Saints, and All Soul's Day

This is the second year I've celebrated All Saint's and all Soul's day along with Halloween.  The first time around I was just happy that my older kid lost his candle phobia, but this year I had more chance to think about the celebrations themselves.  I've appreciated not only the additional celebrations, but also the reminder that there is something more to Halloween than just a fun romp into materialism and silliness.  Perhaps this is meaningful to me since for a substantial portion of my growing up years my family did not celebrate Halloween at all and now as a parent the celebration is oriented around my children instead of me.  So celebrating All Saint's and All Soul's day contextualizes Halloween in a more meaningful way for me.

Growing up, my family early on celebrated Halloween like most any American family- with carved pumpkins, costumes, trick or treating, and a zany family dinner where all the foods were renamed with disturbing names.  Later on, we stopped celebrating Halloween on the basis that it was a pagan celebration.  It became such a non event that one year I remember even being left home by myself not even knowing it was a holiday and being totally surprised when trick or treaters came to the door.  I had to offer the youngsters candy from my personal stash since nothing else was available.

It is easy to make the argument that Halloween has pre Christian origins, particularly with the celebration of Samhain.  Similar claims could be made about Christmas and Easter, where the celebration of the the winter solstice and the fertility celebrations of Spring can be traced.  It is also easy to make the argument that Halloween has Christian origins.  I believe Halloween gets labeled as pagan because it is so easy for Protestant's to ignore the Christian aspects of this sequence of holiday's that are rooted in Catholicism's concepts of purgatory and saints.  However, imagine what would happen to Christmas if the same happened.  If you belonged to a Christian church that rejected the celebration of Christmas as a religious event but observed it as a secular one the giving of gifts would have no remembrance of the wise men and the trees, wreaths, and yule logs would have meaning only in reference to pre christian practices.  It would be easy to view it as a travesty of materialism, wild partying, and paganism.  You might or might not justify it as harmless fun but it would an empty shell.  Similarly, Halloween is made more empty by a rejection of its Christian aspects.

But what are All Saint's and All Soul's day?  In the Episcopal Church All Saint's day is a special memorial to remember people whose example of devout living or contribution to Christianity was somehow remarkable.  The Saints are remembered as examples and most days of the year are set aside to remember someone if you care to look it up.  All Soul's day is set aside for the remembering of those who have died, for example by lighting memorial candles.  Despite being one of the major holiday's of the church year, a traditional vigil is not kept the evening before All Saint's day.  As a result there isn't any particular religious observance made on Halloween itself.  But simply by observing All Saint's and All Soul's day in the first place, Halloween can be appreciated more fully in all its complexities.