Is anybody else as shocked as I am that Halloween is next week? I know that must be a really “new-to-the-island” thing to say, but I feel like it crept up on us this year…almost like it wanted to scare us! And that’s entirely appropriate.
See, Halloween, or All Hallows Eve, is the day before All Saint’s Day in what was traditionally the Catholic calendar, though later Christian traditions also observed this church holiday. But before November 1 was All Saint’s Day, it was the date of the New Year in the Celtic calendar observed in the areas that are now called Ireland, the UK, and Northern France roughly 2000 years ago. This holiday was called Samhain. It was thought that during Samhain, spirits of the dead would rise and walk the earth, so putting on scary costumes helped ward away any marauding specters. It wasn’t until the 7th Century, when the Pope decided to move All Saint’s Day, the day to remember all of the departed saints and pray for the souls of departed loved ones, to November 1, that brought about the kind of meeting of traditions we have today on these dates.
Universes Come Together
One of the struggles we face as Unitarian Universalists is making meaning (or even making sense) out of the many rich and wonderful traditions of the world. Some of us may draw strength or comfort from some of the holidays we celebrated with our families, like Halloween and All Saint’s Day. Others of us may find meaning in observing traditions we might not have known about growing up which now speak to something true in our own hearts, like the Festival of Samhain. Indeed, the many and varied ways Unitarian Universalists can look at or celebrate even one holiday is astounding. And it is also beautiful.
I personally believe that the unfolding of days like these that are approaching, the ways we experience the layers of what we inherit from earth-centered religions, from our Christian roots, and from our own family traditions, are part of the deeper wisdom we seek together at Unitarian Universalists. And somehow, so many of the traditions around these few days are only disguises for something deeper, only playing dress-up with something so deeply universal for all of us: fear.
Taking off the Mask
One of the fears of the early Celts was that risen souls would damage the crops they harvested, threatening the long winter’s store of food. They fought back with scary masks. One of the fears of the early Christians was that they might not live in a way that would permit them eternal rest with the saints who passed on before them. They fought back with prayers for the souls of the year’s deceased.
So perhaps in the coming days we will share together, amid the horror movies and rubber masks, we might think of what we fear and how we might fight back. Or better yet, may we think of others’ fears and what we might do to help them to fight back.
And may it ever be so.