Today is All Saints’ Day, yesterday was Halloween and tomorrow is Dia de los Muertos or Day of the Dead.
On Halloween children dress in costume (trick) and go door to door to collect candy (treats). Costumes often convey themes of death or the macabre. Some historians will tell you that Halloween’s origin is in ancient festivals honoring the moon or stars or the end (the death) of the growing season. Some Christians believe that All-Hallow’s Eve is a time that early Christians dressed in costume and bestowed gifts and blessings on those in need in an effort to honor the saints.
All Saints’ Day is a big deal in the Catholic Church. It’s an official holy day. There are countless saints in heaven but All Saints’ Day observances tend to focus on those recognized in the canon of the saints. So the biggies like Mary and Joseph and Peter and Paul get most of the attention. Of course sometimes the more obscure guys like Sixtus and Phileas get a shout out or perhaps the newbies like Teresa of Calcutta or Junípero Serra or Kuriakose Elias Chavara but not your grandmother nor your uncle, regardless of how saintly they may have lived their lives.
The Catholic Church in the U.S. celebrates All Souls’ Day on November 2nd but few folks outside of the church really pay much attention to this day. It’s a day to remember those who have died and who are not (yet?) saints . I guess is where your grandmother fits in. However in Mexico, Dia de los Muertos is a major feast day and a national holiday as well. The dead are honored with special meals, including their favorite foods and drink. Whole families gather in the celebration and the mood is light, with the emphasis on remembering and honoring the lives of the deceased.
So why all the fascination with death? I suppose that in order to fully live we must be able to accept death, too. Death is not what defines us. Eternal life, that which we so desperately seek, is never definite; never final. There is much hope for life beyond. There is the promise of life with God. And whether that means heaven or remaining in the spirit of those we leave behind, it’s comforting to know that we are more than just a mass of human cells. I believe with all my heart that we exist beyond our last breath. The love we give is multiplied by those we have loved and then divided amongst those we leave behind.
So our lives matter.
And death, well we can dress it up and “trick or treat” or we can solemnly honor it on a high holy day. But I hope that someday my family will be at my graveside dining on some of my favorite foods and drinking some good wine and laughing and crying and allowing my spirit to live on. Then I will truly rest in peace.