Here we are near the end of October and faced with the succession of the “All” holidays again: All Saints’ Day, All Souls’ Day, All Hallows’ Eve.
For me, All Saints’ Day has never been big on my radar, maybe because I’ve never met any actual saints.
On All Saints’ Day some traditions limit their celebration to those who have been identified as saints by the hierarchies of the Church. In other traditions, the “saints” might be anybody — your friend or your grandmother, for instance — who led you to some particular belief.
Alas, for me, I was born in an All Saints’ Hospital, but that’s as far as my affinity with All Saints’ Day goes.
All Souls’ Day, on the other hand, always sounded more egalitarian to my spiritual ear, like it might be a day to celebrate anybody who has passed on. But traditions other than mine seem to want the souls they honor to have believed one specific thing or another. So All Souls’ Day may not always be the radically inclusive holiday I wish it were.
Then there’s All Hallows’ Eve. When I was coming up, All Hallows’ Eve (i.e., Halloween) was celebrated all around: in my home, neighborhood, school and church. I loved it.
As kids, we spent time dreaming up and often making our costumes. The evening of Halloween, we ran through the neighborhood trick-or-treating door to door.
Some of our neighbors decorated their yards or came to their doors as witches and goblins before handing out candy and treats. One family always wanted us to bob for apples in their front yard; obviously, this was pre-COVID.
And then there was another guy who gave out toothbrushes instead of candy; yes, he was a dentist in real life, and as we got older, we learned to skip his house.
What I didn’t know back then was that Halloween owed an awful lot to pre-Christian traditions like Samhain (pronounced “sow’-wen”), a Celtic festival that celebrated the completion of the harvest.
People wore costumes, lit bonfires and held feasts, sort of like Halloween but with more of a sense that the dark and the cold were part of the cycle of life.
A holiday I’ve experienced more recently is el Día de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead. This tradition, which started in Southern Mexico and spread across South America, Europe and the United States, is an event focused on gatherings of family and friends to celebrate, pray for and remember their loved ones who have died and to help support them on their journey in the beyond.
On the Day of the Dead many cemeteries fill up with families sharing picnics with the souls of the departed, eating and drinking among the graves of their ancestors and building special altars among the gravesites.
Some of this holiday is about grief and loss, no doubt. But it is also about recognizing that my departed loved ones are with me still, and I with them, in both large and small ways.
Come to think of it, maybe this is sort of all the “All’”holidays mixed together.
At this point in my life, if asked to choose from among the holidays this time of year, I would go with Día de los Muertos. It’s the one that asks us to think of ourselves holistically again, to nurture connections with those who came before and to continue telling their stories.
How can you be afraid of the “great beyond” — whatever it is, or isn’t — after that?
See you in church or synagogue or mosque.