By Scott Baker
As we end the month of October, we officially enter into the holiday season that so many look forward to all year long. Regardless if you are a third grader who has had their Christmas wish list made out since July, or are looking forward to turkey and dressing with all the fixin’s, the holiday time certainly shapes our lives.
However, many of us enter this time of the year with little knowledge of how long we have been celebrating them. Like its counterpart Christmas, which arose out of the Roman observance of Saturnalia, Halloween and its observance is far older than Christianity itself.
“The popular name for All Hallows’ Eve is Halloween. It was the eve of Samhain, a pagan Celtic celebration of the beginning of winter and the first day of the new year. This time of the ingathering of the harvest and the approach of winter apparently provided a reminder of human mortality. It was a time when the souls of the dead were said to return to their homes. Bonfires were set on hilltops to frighten away evil spirits. Samhain was a popular festival at the time when the British Isles were converted to Christianity. The church ‘adopted’ this time of celebration for Christian use by observing All Saints’ Day on November 1st, and All Hallows’ Eve on October 31st . (An Episcopal Dictionary>A user friendly reference for Episcopalians. By Don Armentrout and Robert Boak Slocum; editors. ©1999 pg. 7)”
Christians have “re-imaged” (appropriated?) these ancient observances and transformed them into our purpose. Although Halloween is thought of as the “Trick or Treat” night, in many parts of the Christian world it retains its connection to the next day of All Saints’. In Mexico and other parts of the world Halloween is the Eve of Dia de Muertos — the Day of the Dead. It is a specific time of the year when we remember loved ones who have died: especially within the last year. All Saints’ is the day of the year we remember especially all the “faithfully departed.” However, Christians do not pretend to know all those whose faith is known to God alone and therefore we dedicated Nov. 2 to them with the observance of All Souls Day. Beginning in the 10th century, it became customary to set aside another day — as a sort of extension of All Saints — on which the Church remembered that vast body of the faithful who, though no less members of the company of the redeemed, are unknown in the wider fellowship of the Church. These three days of the calendar are days we remember and celebrate “the great cloud of witnesses that surrounds us” as the author of the letter to the Hebrews states so eloquently. We can remember those in our lives who have shown what virtuous and holy living looks like, and can shape our own lives to mirror more closely the example they left. And, in so doing, walk more closely in the footsteps of Jesus Christ.
This year, the year of the pandemic, All Saints’ and its observance, takes on a whole new meaning for the families of the 220,000-plus who have suffered and died as a result of COVID-19. As Halloween and All Saints’ are in our collective consciousness, it is a perfect time for us to remember, celebrate, and give thanks for all those who have impacted our lives and who we still love, but see no more. No doubt they were, as the Book of Common Prayer so wonderfully states it, truly “the lights of the world in their several generations.”
THE REV. SCOTT BAKER is the pastor of Emmanuel Episcopal Church. Contact him at 757-562-4542.