A Tryptych Holiday


October 31 is Halloween. It is not normally thought of as a church holiday. It’s older name, All Hallows Eve, reminds us of its connection to Christianity. It is in fact, the first of three Holy Days in a row. All Hallows on October 31, All Saints Day on November 1 and All Souls Day on November 2. These are from the calendar of the Catholic church and form what is called Allhallowstide.

October 31 is also Reformation Day, the day in 1517 that Martin Luther nailed his 95 thesis to the door of the castle church in Wittenberg, asking for a debate on several problems he had with the Roman Catholic Church.

Halloween, All Hallows Eve, is the day before All Saints Day. “Hallows” translates from Old English as “Holies,” referring to “All Holies” Day that follows. In this case, the Holies are the Saints. Celebrations in the Church frequently start the night before, (“evening, e’en”) (See Christmas Eve), (the day starts at sunset the day before) and so that’s the origin of Halloween’s name.
But its origin goes back to the days of Roman rule in Great Britain. The folks who lived there, the Celts, had a nature based religion. October 31, or there abouts, was the last day of the year, or at least the “light” half of it. The days were getting very short as the solstice on December 21 approaches. Their year started with what for us is late fall into winter, right after the harvest. Herds returned from pasture, and land tenures were renewed.
They held a festival on that day called Samhain [Saa-win]. (This is Celtic, so it’s not pronounced at all like it looks), when they believed that on that night in particular, the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead was weaker, with the old dead returning to their homes, and the newly dead crossing over to the afterworld. There were bonfires, both to light hearth fires and to frighten away evil spirits. People would were masks to confuse the spirits. Divinations on this day were supposed to be specifically accurate.
After the Church co-opted it, people would still wear costumes to symbolize the conflict of good and evil.
The Reformation (1500s) ended Halloween celebrations in most of Europe, but not Britain. In the U.S., the Puritans banned Halloween celebrations in their territories, but European immigrants in the mid 19th century (especially the Irish) brought their celebrations with them.

In the Catholic Church, All Saints Day, is a celebration of all the named saints in the Church Canon, the “All Stars” of the Catholic Church throughout the ages, those who had been declared saints by the Church.
It was first declared by Pope Boniface IV in 609 CE when he consecrated what had been the Pantheon in Rome as the Church of St. Mary and the Martyrs. Originally this was May 13, which was the day of an ancient Roman festival called Lemuralia, in which the Romans would exorcize ghosts from their homes.
A hundred years later, Pope Gregory III, (the Gregorian calendar guy) on the dedication of St. Peter’s Basilica moved the feast to November 1, which took over the day of Samhain, co-opting it.

As Methodists, we combine All Saints Day and All Souls Day, however we include more than the All Stars in our prayers. We focus on those we have lost this last year, but we also remember those who have died in years passed, and we also honor all of the saints that are yet to come. Next Sunday, we will call the roll of the Saints for those from this last year, and remember them.

All Souls Day is the next day, November 2. All Souls Day started in the 11th century when French Abbot Odilo of Cluny (d. 1048 ) established it in his order, and it spread throughout the Church. It is the day that our Catholic friends pray for those who have died, but especially for those who have not yet made it to heaven, still being in purgatory. We do not have purgatory as part of our theology. When a person dies, we believe, based on scripture, that they are on their way to their destination without any lay-overs.

November 2 is also celebrated by our Mexican friends as Dia de los Muertos, a/k/a The Day of the Dead (for deceased adults) (deceased children are celebrated on November 1). All Souls and Day of the Dead are not the same holiday, but they are on the same day.
Dia De Los Muertos has a history that goes back into the days before North America had been colonized, and the indigenous peoples in the southwest had a month-long holiday dedicated to the Aztec Goddess of Death, Mictecacaihuatl. When the Catholic missionaries came along, the Church moved this holiday to November 1 and 2 to coincide with All Saints and All Souls Days, co-opting it into Christianity. Much like the Celtic folks of Britain, the indigenous folks believed that on this day, the dead were closer to us than on other days.
Modern celebrations vary according to the location, but it is always a celebration of life. In rural areas, it is common to decorate the graves of loved ones with candles, (Aztec) marigolds (cempazuchitl), and the favorite foods of the deceased to persuade them to return for a family reunion, a picnic in the cemetery. In cities, the festivals are large. Some wear wooden skull masks called calavares. They put together shrines called ofrendas in their homes, with pictures of the deceased, candles, flowers and food.
Dia De Los Muertes features dark humor, with humorous epitaphs on fake tombstones and toys and candy made to look like skulls (calaveras) and skeletons (calacas), as well as pan muerto, a special cake. (See Coco by Disney for examples of these celebrations). But also with telling stories of dead relatives, and has a more upbeat tone.
Who do you remember?

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