At the end of last week most of us participated, in one way or another, in Halloween festivities. This week I want to reflect on the origins of Halloween, namely that it is the eve of an important feast of the Christian calendar, All Saints’ Day. In fact, the term derived from the original “All Hallows Eve.” I am indebted to Wikipedia for several paragraphs in this blog.
Allhalloween, All Hallows’ Eve, or All Saints’ Eve, is a celebration observed in several countries on 31 October, the eve of the Western Christian feast of All Hallows’ Day. It begins the three-day observance of Allhallowtide, the time in the liturgical year dedicated to remembering the dead, including saints (hallows), martyrs, and all the faithful departed.
All Saints’ Day, also known as All Hallows’ Day, Hallowmas, the Feast of All Saints, or Solemnity of All Saints, is a Christian festival celebrated in honor of all the saints, known and unknown. In Western Christianity, it is celebrated on November the 1st by the Roman Catholic Church, the Anglican Communion, the Methodist Church, the Church of the Nazarene, the Lutheran Church, the Reformed Church, and other Protestant churches, November 1st is also the day before All Souls Day.
In the Western Christian practice, the liturgical celebration begins at Vespers on the evening of 31 October, All Hallows’ Eve (All Saints’ Eve), and ends at the close of 1 November. It is thus the day before All Souls’ Day, which commemorates the faithful departed. In many traditions, All Saints’ Day is part of the season of Allhallowtide, which includes the three days from 31 October to 2 November inclusive and in some denominations, such as Anglicanism, extends to Remembrance Sunday. On All Saints Day, it is common for families to attend church, as well as visit cemeteries in order to lay flowers and candles on the graves of their deceased loved ones. In Austria and Germany, godparents gift their godchildren Allerheiligenstriezel (All Saint’s Braid) on All Saint’s Day, while the practice of souling remains popular in Portugal. It is a national holiday in many Christian countries. (Citations omitted.)
In Mexico this traditional rite of respect for departed family and friends is celebrated on November 2, El Día de los Muertos or Day of the Dead, a public holiday in Mexico where families gather to pray for and remember those who have died. Mexicans see the day as a day of celebration, not sadness. They consider their deceased relatives as awake and celebrating with them. A delightful portrayal of this Mexican tradition was provided in the recent award-winning movie “Coco,” a story of a twelve-year-old boy named Manuel who seeks the help of his deceased musician great-great grandfather to reverse his family’s ban on music.
Other cultures and other parts of the world have similar traditions to honor their forebears.
Again, from Wikipedia:
[In Greater China there is] the Qingming or Ching Ming festival, also known as Tomb-Sweeping Day in English (sometimes also called Chinese Memorial Day or Ancestors’ Day), … a traditional Chinese festival observed by the Han Chinese of Mainland China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand. It falls on the first day of the fifth solar term of the traditional Chinese lunisolar calendar. This makes it the 15th day after the Spring Equinox, either 4 or 5 April in a given year. During Qingming, Chinese families visit the tombs of their ancestors to clean the gravesites, pray to their ancestors, and make ritual offerings. Offerings would typically include traditional food dishes, and the burning of joss sticks and joss paper. The holiday recognizes the traditional reverence of one’s ancestors in Chinese culture. The Qingming Festival has been observed by the Chinese for over 2500 years.
In accord with this rather universal instinct to reach out to our loved ones after their passing, and consistent with my own Christian and Catholic tradition, I would like to offer a prayer that I wrote several years ago but have never shared with anyone before. It is a take-off on Jesus’ favorite prayer, the Our Father. It is consistent with the spirit of the feast to pray to all saints, known and unknown.
The idea for this prayer came to me one night in a dream. It is called the “My Father” (it can be the “Our Mother” as well). Here it is:
My Father, who art in heaven
Hallowed be YOUR name
God’s Kingdom’s come
His will was done, on earth
And is now in heaven.
You gave us our bread on so many days.
You looked past our weaknesses
And taught us to forgive the failings of others
You guided our paths away from temptation
And oh! How you protected us from evil!
And now you are in God’s Kingdom, and His Power
And His Glory forever. Amen