Did you know that Halloween is only the beginning of a holy three days? Hallow means holy and “Hallowe’en” is a contraction of All Hallows Eve, or Even. On Halloween, we face our fears and laugh at them, knowing that nothing, not even death, can separate us from the love of God. Samhain, the Celtic New Year, a harvest festival and a liminal time halfway between the autumnal equinox and the winter solstice, predated Christianity and fell on October 31. The Celts believed that the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead was especially thin then. Ancient practices and festivals have been adopted by the Church and made new in the light of Christ. To me, this does not diminish the Christian holy days; it makes them stronger, more resonant.
My friends at Salt offer a brief theology of Halloween which I find both heartening and illuminating. Halloween is the busiest and most festive night of the year in our Brooklyn neighborhood, joyfully celebrated by all. We’ll spend several hours (in costume, of course) on our stoop with lollipops, play dough and glow sticks to hand out, delighting in the Beloved Community flowing by.
November 1 is All Saints Day, a major feast of the church which we’ll celebrate on the following Sunday with baptisms. The Book of Common Prayer calls saints “the lights of the world in every generation”–people whose lives and deeds have shone brightly and helped others more closely follow Jesus. There are saints who lived long ago and there are saints living and working in the world today, saints who are known by the church and saints who are known only to God. We say that we are part of the Communion of Saints, the company of all faithful people, connected through our baptism to those Christians who have died, those who are alive now, and those yet to be born. The word “saint” means holy. In the Episcopal Church we have a Calendar of Saints, holy men and women we remember in prayer and with readings from scripture on their feast day. The saints tend to be quite colorful, and being perfect is in no way a requirement.
November 2, All Souls Day, is the “commemoration of all faithful departed,” a day to remember our own family and friends who have died. It’s a good time to visit a cemetery, which should not be a place of fear, but of respect. No one minds if you make rubbings of old gravestones. The churchyard where I work has markers dating back to the late 17th century. Mexican friends observe this day with serious play and even joy as the Day of the Dead, making family altars with photographs, flowers, candles, and food. Light a candle, say a prayer, tell stories of the ones we love and see no longer.
Here are three books I recommend for children who are grieving: The Invisible String by Patricia Karst does a wonderful job of describing the way in which we are all connected to those we love and is helpful for those experiencing any kind of separation or loss. My Favorite Color is Blue. Sometimes. by Roger Hutchison is a sensitive, imaginative exploration of grief in child-friendly language and vibrant art. Death is Stupid by Anastasia Higgenbotham, is refreshingly honest, while leaving room for your own religious beliefs.
Wendy Claire Barrie is the author of Faith at Home: A Handbook for Cautiously Christian Parents. This post is adapted from Chapter 5.