Saints and the rest of us, too

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.

captureThe 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.


Dias de Muertos

In the U.S. on October 31st we celebrate Halloween as a time for children (and some adults) to go door to door begging for candy. With a cheery “Trick or Treat” the little beggars wait with their bags and buckets outstretched to receive their treat. Most households oblige. Some communities have moved “Halloween” to the Sunday afternoon before October 31st to avoid a dark night. Others have opted for “Trunk or Treat” which corrals families in a safe place such as a school or church parking lot. All of these activities are fun and none of them have much to do with the origin of Halloween or more accurately “All Hallows Eve”. All Hallows’ Eve is the day before the very important feast of All Saints Day in Western Christian traditions.

Trick or TreatIn early Christian tradition the night before All Saints was a time to honor the saints that have passed before us and folks often dressed as their patron saints and visited neighbors. I suppose this may have been the beginnings of today’s modern celebration of Halloween. How we went from honoring our dearly departed, and the saints to slogging around as zombies, vampires, witches, princesses, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and all other manner of characters, I have no idea. Still I think Halloween is harmless fun and most people handle it responsibly. Kids running around the neighborhood asking for candy is hardly a sign of a predilection to the occult. Some people seem to think that allowing children to “Trick or Treat” is tempting the devil. I say relax – no little girl or boy dressed as princess or a ninja is sacrificing animals at an altar. No one has traded their soul for a Snickers bar.

I admire the tradition of my friends in Mexico. They celebrate November 1st and 2nd as “Dias de Muertos” or days of the dead. It’s a time to remember and honor those saints in our own lives. Families gather in cemeteries and bring the favorite foods of their loved ones. Sometimes the food, flowers, and small gifts are left at the grave and at other times the friends and families will share the meal of favorite foods in honor the deceased.

I love the idea that someday when I’m gone from this world my children and grandchildren might gather at my grave and share a favorite food or drink, tell a joke, sing a favorite song and pray for my soul. Maybe it’s as superstitious and as silly as our modern Halloween traditions but I find comfort in knowing that I would not be forgotten. And if they leave some candy, I hope it’s chocolate.