Yesterday was Halloween. 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. Nowadays children dress in costume (trick) and go door to door to collect candy (treats). Costumes often convey themes of death or the macabre but just as likely they might be pop stars or something cute and cuddly. Still, you won’t find any saints on parade bestowing gifts or blessings. As a kid, I can assure you that my “trick or treating” was a completely unholy experience. We ran like a pack of wild dogs and grabbed as much candy from as many houses as we could in three or so hours. Those who refused to play along and kept their houses dark risked smashed pumpkins or worse. My friends and I were tiny terrorists demanding candy! Nothing particularly saintly about that experience.
Today is All Saints’ Day, and tomorrow is Dia de los Muertos or Day of the Dead, also known as All Souls’ Day.
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 Peter and Paul and Mary (not to be confused with the folk trio from the ’60s) 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 Artemide Zatti or Giovanni Battista Scalabrini 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 this 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. For some it 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. I just 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. And then I will truly rest in peace.
In the time of their visitation, they shall shine and shall dart about as sparks through stubble. Wisdom 3:7