Last night was Halloween. Today is All Saints Day. Tomorrow, November 2, will be All Soul’s Day.
So naturally the conversation this morning in the office involved different cultural traditions of remembering, and perhaps interacting, with those who have died. In Chile, The Day of the Dead is a time to go to the cemetery, clean the graves, place flowers on the grave and once again express connection and love.
The Day of the Dead in Mexico is more colourful and festive, involving music and parades, colourful masks that adorn skulls with brilliant hues reflecting the vibrancy of life. On this day the dead are invited back into town, into the homes of family and special candles and meals honour their unseen presence.
In Canada and the U.S. well…we go trick-or-treating and spend billions of dollars on candy. Which is fun and tasty and sweet, but perhaps lacks the same philosophical depth.
Perhaps remembering the roots of All Saints Day would be helpful.
Way back in time, around the 4th century, All Saint’s Day was initially celebrated in late May or early June, and was also called All Hallows Day, hallow meaning “holy” (as in “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.”) Just as Christ-mas is a mass celebrating the birth of Christ, All Hallows Day was also called Hallowmas, for on that day a “holy mass” was given in honor of the martyrs, the saints.
Four hundred years later, in the 8th century, Pope Gregory III changed the date of All Hallows Day to November 1. Why? Because November 1 is when many northern Europeans celebrated their pagan harvest festival, and Pope Gregory wanted to ‘baptize’ the festival with a Christian celebration. The night before All Hallows Day thus came to be known as Hallows Eve, and later ran together to become Halloween.
In ancient Europe as in Mexico and South America, Halloween/Day of the Dead was seen to be one of those times of the year when the spiritual world can make contact with the physical world. In this liminal time, the other world can cross the threshold into this world. A liminal experience is characterized by ambiguity and openness to realities not well identified. One’s sense of identity dissolves to some extent, bringing about a temporary state of disorientation. So at Halloween, we get dressed in costumes to set aside our identity for a while and disorient our usual way of being in the world.
Spiritually, liminality is a period of transition during which our normal limits of thought, self-understanding and behavior are relaxed, opening the way to something new. Binary thinking is replaced by an acceptance of ambiguity. Underneath the candy bars and trick-or-treating, Hallows Eve is not really about being scared but being sacred; it’s a holy time when the spiritual and physical world mingle. On November 1, All Hallows Day, we remember those who have died and recognize the ambiguous, permeable membrane of spiritual and physical reality.
However you recognize this time, may your day be blessed by all the saints!