In just days, All Hallow’s Eve will be upon us once more. There are those who believe it’s a negative holiday, some because it’s been turned into a commercial driven candy fest, which obviously isn’t healthy for our children (or for us parents who raid the candy bag!) Others come out strongly against it for religious reasons, saying that it opens children to evil and is too frightening.
I’d like to offer a healing perspective for this ancient celebration. If you find that you appreciate this perspective, you can celebrate Halloween in a new way, with loving intention and thoughtful memory of those gone on before you.
In Nature, mid-autumn is time to reflect on the richness of life and to honor its endings. The trees and other flora offer a pageantry for the senses, through vibrantly colored leaves and fall fruits (like the lovely acorn). I like to think of that feast for the soul as nature’s way of going out in a blaze of glory – completing one more cycle of life before it rests for the year. As the leaves slowly fall we’re prepared for the wintry sight of bare reaching branches, stark against often gray skies… a living metaphor for death.
Many cultures set this time aside, specifically October 31 and November 1, to offer thanks and celebration for those who have given them life, the richness of their culture and heritage, and who have passed into the land of shadows before them. It is the time to honor their beloved dead.
Some say that on the night of October 31 specifically, the veil between the living and the dead is very thin, and that communication between the two realms is possible. Whether this is true or not, in my view, is irrelevant. What we’re offered via Halloween/Samhain/All Hallow’s Eve and All Saints Day on November 1 is a small moment once a year to really think about, cherish, and re-member our loved ones who have died.
In my family this remembering has become a ritual. We bring out photographs of my dad, my brother and the many other relatives and loved ones that we spent a part of our lives with. We tell stories, often stories that we all know by heart, about the things they did, their idiosyncrasies, the wonders of who they were, and who they still are in our hearts and memories. And we visit the local cemetery – sometimes offering stories about the lives of those whose headstones offer a brief glimpse into the previously walking lives of whomever lies beneath. We leave fruit and flowers… and say good bye once again.
And we also carve pumpkins into scary Jack-o-lanterns, dress up in ghoulish costumes, go to an annual Halloween party at a dear friend’s home, trick-or-treat and eat way too much candy… but somehow with this added perspective and ritual, the more frivolous and commercial aspects of the holiday hold a more profound meaning and feel very deeply sacred.
Halloween, celebrated in this way, is a rich and wonderful time of bitter-sweet. Bitter because it opens us to grief and sadness, profoundly aware of the absence of family and friends. Sweet because the faces and lives of those already passed are remembered, bringing us the depth of connection and the understanding that living and dying are both a vital and equally important part of this poignantly, sometimes painfully, beautiful and fleeting moment called life.
Bring on the Jack-o-Lanterns…