Thursday, October 27, 2011
I just saw a show on TV last night in which a new neighbor upsets the whole neighborhood by decorating his yard for Halloween. The neighbors complain that they don't want to frighten their children. No one, of course, brought up the meaning of the holiday.
It's easy to forget that "hallows" is an old English word for "saints;" "een" is shortened from "evening." It's the Eve of the feast of All Saints. Halloween and many of its observances were brought to this country by the Irish in the 19th century.
The religion of most of the Irish before Christianity was Druid. November 1 was their New Year. They believed that on the last night of the year the god of the dead released those who had died during the year to return to their families for one last evening. The family gathered around the fireplace with the dead relatives favorite food and whiskey and tobacco and pipe. They entertained him or her with song and dance.
The Irish were also aware that some of the dead had no living family to go back to, so they built bonfires at the crossroads and put food and drink beside them for the groups of the dead who wandered that night with no family. It doesn't take much of a stretch to move from that practice to groups of "ghouls and goblins" wandering from house to house looking for hospitality.
When I was a child in a small town we put on costumes and went from house to house in groups (no adults!) The group was welcomed into the home where we sang songs and recited poems and sometimes danced. Then the people of the house would try to guess who each of us was. Only then did they give us a treat and we went on our way.
Remembering the dead at this time of year has much to do with the bare trees and dying leaves and the growing darkness. The dead are nothing to be afraid of. They are family and others like us who have moved on into another dimension of existence with God. They have our best interests at heart and we can ask them to pray for us.