Are there times when you remember your loved ones who have passed from this life?
Goblins and ghosts; zombies and vampires: as creatures of the night begin to stir, we know that Halloween is upon us. But how could we miss it? My grocery store is surely much like yours: the candy and decorative displays for Halloween have been near the store entrance for weeks! Halloween, like all of our holidays, has become a largely commercialized event. Much like other holidays, there’s significance about this holiday that taps the human spirit.
The historic roots of Halloween are complex. The influence of an ancient Roman harvest festival is evident in the pumpkins we carve. The variety of customs about the dead are drawn from the various Celtic tribes of Europe, particular those in the British Isles. Other elements emerged from Celtic Christianity, a fusion of the Christian story with earth-centered Celtic traditions. What is common in all of these historic roots for our modern Halloween is the association of this day (that is, this holy day or “holiday”) with a celebration of life’s fullness intertwined with the remembrance of the dead.
For reasons not entirely clear to me, an association was made in Western Europe with the Northern hemisphere’s shortening of days and the completion of the harvest with a particular understanding of a deep connection between the dead and those still alive.. This association wasn’t about some popular understanding of witch craft or evil menace but became an opportunity to mark the bond with loved ones known as Hallowed Eve. Building on this understanding, Western Christianity began to mark holy days associated with the departed on the days following Halloween, with November 1 as All Saints and November 2 as All Souls in the 9th Century CE.
While the exact history of the evolution of Halloween is difficult to decipher, what is clear is that this holiday marks the longing for on-going relationships with ancestors and deceased loved ones. This historic observance dates back several millennia and was not lost even when cultures evolved and the practice of religion changed from Celtic tribal traditions, to the Roman pantheon, and then to Christian monotheism.
The traditions of Halloween grew from a sense that our deceased loved ones and ancestors were particularly close to us in the growing autumn season. Perhaps this connection with those who have died was made because the experience of autumn is both one of great beauty, with the harvest and the changing colors of leaves, as well as an experience of death, with longer nights and increasing cold.
While I’ll enjoy passing out treats to the kids in our neighborhood this Halloween, what’s more important to me is to pause and reflect on the wonder of our lives. Halloween is a reminder that our loved ones and ancestors continue to walk with us. Their lives continue to influence our lives. Who we are and what we do can, in many ways, be attributed to them.
Are there ways that Halloween and the Day of the Dead can become a time for you to celebrate the lives of your departed loved ones?
© 2016, emerging by Lou Kavar, Ph.D.. All rights reserved.