October 31st is All Hallows’ Eve in some Christian traditions. Today, we shorten the name to Halloween. This begins the 3-day festival of All Hallows’ Tide. What is a Hallow? The word means “holy” as in “hallowed ground” and is another word for Saint (a holy person). Just as Christmas Eve precedes Christmas Day, All Hallows’ Eve precedes All Hallows’ Day or All Saints’ Day.
October 31st: All Hallows’ Eve (Halloween)
November 1st: All Saints’ Day (honoring the saints and martyrs)
November 2nd: All Soul’s Day (honoring the departed souls)
In the many traditions, All Hallows’ Tide is a sacred time of prayer and remembrance to honor those that have passed on.
The Day of the Dead
In Mexico, this festival is known as The Day of the Dead, which has its own traditions for families to honor those that have passed. While the translated name sounds perhaps ghoulish in the United States, it is in fact a family celebration. Graves are decorated; family members gather in graveyards; and often humorous stories are told as deceased family members are fondly remembered.
Melting Pot of Influences
Many of the founders of this country were Protestants and Puritans. While also Christian, they had parted with the Roman Catholic Church. The Puritans did not believe in celebrating these holidays, and even thought of Halloween as a time where evil spirits roamed the earth. The holiday became associated with the occult and pagan rituals.
However, when the Irish and the Scottish brought Christian Celtic influences into the United States with their later migration, they also brought their own traditions for these holidays – bobbing for apples, exchanging food, jack-o-lanterns, and even costumes can be traced back to many of their traditions.
Candy and Costumes
In the United States, with a melting pot of influences, Halloween has become a commercial holiday of candy and costumes. Rather than a sacred celebration, it has become a retail holiday. From this, the secular Halloween has become a time of costumes, candy, and trick-or-treat with the “evil spirit” twist of blood and gore. You can find fun costumes of superheroes and princesses walking right next to zombies, werewolves, and walking Death. It has become a strangely eclectic holiday of haunted houses, decorations, scary movies, ghost stories, remembrances, and much more.
Returning to the Sacred
For me, I prefer to return to the sacredness of this time. I generally ignore the highly commercial Halloween celebrations. However, All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day have become a meaningful tradition for me. A few years ago, a friend from Scotland invited me to a ceremony to share a meal with friends. After the meal, she lit a candle, and we each shared a story about one of our ancestors (some recently passed, some long gone). By the end of the meal, we were in sacred time – each of us feeling the blessings of our ancestors. We recognize how they continue to impact our lives. We honor the strengths that these family members have brought into our lives. We honor those who passed this earth before us and brought us this gift of life.