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Hallowe’en; All Hallows’ Eve – Honoring the Dead…and the Living

Hallowe’en; All Hallows’ Eve – Honoring the Dead…and the Living

I seldom post about cultural holidays except to honor the sacredness that underlies their original  meaning, like Labor Day or Memorial Day.

This year I’m making an exception for Hallowe’en (All Hallows’ Eve), primarily to push back against the over-simplification and over-commercialization of the centuries old Celtic Samhein festival that originally signified a day when the souls of those who had died were believed to return to visit their homes, and those who had died during the year were believed to journey to the otherworld. 

A very long time ago, ancient Britons set bonfires on hilltops on the eve of All Saints’ Day (or All Souls Day) (mid-way between the fall equinox and the winter solstice) for relighting their hearth fires for the winter and to frighten away evil spirits. They sometimes wore masks and other disguises to avoid being recognized by the ghosts thought to be present. It was in those ways that beings such as witches, hobgoblins, fairies, and demons came to be associated with the day.

That meaning, the thinning of the veils between the dead and the living, is still carried forward where I live in California in the Mexican family celebrations of Dia de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead, where family and friends gather together to remember friends and family members who have died, with joyous celebrations of the favorite foods and beverages of the departed and gifts of food and flowers on the graves of the celebrated ones. 

For many years now, I have gathered with a small group of friends to honor the family members and close friends who have died. We bring photos and mementos to a simple altar and share memories and laughter/tears over a simple pot-luck meal. Remembering and honoring the lives of those who have passed on before us helps us to remember to honor our own lives while we are alive to do so.

Whatever you might do to help your children (grandchildren) dress up as pirates and dragons and ballet dancers and princesses and send them out with their friends to startle and amuse the neighbors, however you might offer apples and peanuts rather than sugar-sweets to the trick or treaters who come to your door, you might also take a few moments, quietly by yourself or with family and friends, to honor the lives of people who blessed your life with their presence, and spend a few moments in conversation with them, even in their absence. 

Hallowe’en can still be a hallowed, holy day.