I had an interesting conversation today with an older woman who grew up in France. She was bewildered and dismayed by today’s hoopla, especially by adults around Halloween. I agreed.
It’s not that I object to fun on Halloween. The trick or treat tradition is fun, although a pall comes over the fun when teenagers come to shake me down for candy. I’ve been known to dress up for Halloween, too. But the woman is right, Halloween has traditions that go far deeper than dressing up in costumes and an excuse to party. Its significance is hardly hedonistic.
Halloween has its roots in the thin veil between the world of the dead and the living. The Celtics referred to it as Sanheim. On this day the spirits can pass through the veil and wreak havoc on the land. Druid priests would dress in costumes to drive the spirits out of town. People would dress in costumes to pass the roaming spirits unrecognized.
Halloween, Sanheim, they’re not Christian holidays. But November 1, All Saints Day, is. This day celebrates the lives of exemplary and virtuous Christians, the saints. Although set on November 1 in the eighth century first by Gregory III, it was a feast day as early as the fourth century. It became more formal around 609 or 610 under Boniface IV and was at that time a spring festival.
We might wish to pause a bit on November 1 to remember the saints. Although Protestants shunned the saints during the Reformation, the recent past has brought Protestants back to All Saints Day as a day to remember their saints – the people who helped to shape their lives or those upon whose shoulders they stand. Their saints could be parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, siblings – the loved ones who have passed from this world to the next.
I said to this woman that we should name our saints on All Saints Day. Speak their names aloud, which keeps our memory and by extension the community’s memory of them alive. By saying the name aloud, regardless of how long ago the person died, the community does not forget them. She agreed.
I’ve done All Saints Sunday (the Sunday following All Saints Day) worship with congregations. I invited people to bring pictures of their deceased loved ones. We would set up the pictures as an altar. I then invited them to light a candle and say their names aloud. It’s always a long service, but one that has great meaning. I’ve watched people shed tears for loved ones who died decades ago because saying their names have such power.
After the Halloween fun, let’s pause and remember. Remember your saints. Say their names aloud. Make sure the community does not forget them.