Monday, October 18, 2010
Bishop Felipe Estevez
Halloween, a cherished and well-loved ritual in America, is often marked in the marketplace as early as September, with an abundance of pumpkins, squash, fall colors, costumes and candy. Most find this a time to think about parties, trick-or-treating, and costume parades. Its origins may surprise some. Having both Christian and Celtic origins, both traditions had one common preoccupation about the night of October 31: remembering the dead.
Ancient Celtic origins can be traced to the festival of Samhain, which marked a transition from harvest to New Year. The festival was also a time for the dead to walk the earth, and for the living to respond to Samhain (“lord of the dead”) with sacrifices and bonfires.
Medieval Christian celebrations of All Saints Day and All Souls day on Nov. 1 and 2, respectively, also offered an opportunity for the living to remember the deceased. Irish immigrants brought their “All Hallow’s Eves” (later Halloween) traditions with them to America in the 19th century, like bobbing for apples and masked neighbors playing good-natured pranks on one another.
Modern-day American celebrations of Halloween seem to have become more of a consumption ritual than one of remembrance of the dead or transitions between seasons. The Halloween industry in the United States begins its sales cycle as early as September and often continues to sell Halloween products into November. Candy, costumes, and decorations flood the marketplace at this time of year.
Public safety and crime have also become byproducts of 21st century Halloween activities. For example, the Miami-Dade police website includes a section on Halloween, which contains warnings to the public to check their children’s treats, call the police when harmful items are found, pre-plan and know their children’s routes, and be suspicious of older children who come to their homes more than once “because they may be casing it for burglary”.
The Church’s liturgical calendar offers us an opportunity to revisit the early spirit of Halloween in remembering the dead and celebrating the communion of saints. Children and families can take time to learn about the saints or remember the dead in addition to taking part in wholesome Halloween fun. Visiting a cemetery on All Souls Day to pray for the dead is a beautiful act of mercy, especially for souls in purgatory.
Ultimately, in whatever we do, our lives should witness to authentic Christian living – not just a mindless partaking of what has evolved into a consumption ritual. I leave you with the words of St. Paul to the Philippians: “Your kindness should be known to all. The Lord is near.” (Philippians 4:5).
This blog references the following:
- “Halloween in America: Contemporary Customs and Performances,” article by J. Santino in Western Folklore 42 (1): 1-20.
- “Halloween: An Evolving American Consumption Ritual,”article by Russell W. Belk in Advances in Consumer Research 17 (1990): 508
- Halloween safety tips: http://www.miamidade.gov/mdpd/safety_halloween.asp