Halloween, a holy time we explore our humanity

This is an adaption of a piece I wrote on Jesus, Glue and Glitter. Read the original piece with ideas for faith communities on ways to celebrate Halloween here.

My mother on the left with my youngest brother, me pictured in the middle, and my cousin and eldest brother on the right

My spouse and I both grew up in churches that didn’t celebrate Halloween, however I was lucky enough to have a mom who adored all things costumed and candy-coated.

While we were discouraged at church from reading books like Harry Potter my mom supported my love of all things fairytale and folklore. She would buy me books on dragons and witches, the fae and ancient mythologies. She fuelled my present day love of Halloween. A love I’ve passed on to my spouse and kid.

But Halloween, and All Soul’s Day, has a deeper meaning for me now. My mother passed away when I was 19, early in November. All Souls Day is one of the days of the year I remember her. Her light, her smile, her creativity and warmth.

In 2020 I was delighted to see November 1st landed on a Sunday. In a year when we were not able to gather for funeral and memorial services, it felt important to take a day to remember the loved ones who had died. Grief is hard enough when everything is going “right”, but in the middle of a global pandemic, without the usual rituals we use to grieve, it has been especially hard on folks.

Halloween, and All Soul’s Day, offer us an annual opportunity to engage our families in the power of story, the truths fairytales and folklore offer us, in all things dark and mysteries, and in the mystery of death. Halloween is one of my favourite times of year, not just because of the costumes and candy but because it is a holy time when we explore our deepest desires and fears. It is a time we can remember those we’ve lost.

My heritage is Irish and so I am always interested in Celtic festivals and history. Samhain is part of the origins of modern-day Halloween, a time when “the souls of those who had died were believed to return to visit their homes, and those who had died during the year were believed to journey to the otherworld. People set bonfires on hilltops for relighting their hearth fires for the winter and to frighten away evil spirits, and they sometimes wore masks and other disguises to avoid being recognized by the ghosts thought to be present.” (“Halloween”, from the Encyclopaedia Brittanica)

During Halloween we are invite to play and to wonder, to encounter the dark and delve into its mystery. We get to dress up as our fantasies and play at the things we fear most in the dark. This is a holy time of ghosts and goblins, fairies and witches. It is a time when our whole community plays together, giving ourselves permissions to be silly because we’re ‘doing it for the kids’.

My mom loved Halloween, she made us fabulous costumes and let us watch Halloween movies. She focused on the fun and fantasy instead of the gore, encouraging us to use our creativity and imaginations. On All Soul’s Day I honour her memory, but I live it out when I make a Halloween costume or decorate my house. It is by sharing my love of Halloween that I most reflect her. For me, Halloween is doubly whole, not just as I explore my humanity but as I explore who my mother was to me.

With that I’ll wish you a Happy Halloween–have fun, stay safe, and enjoy.

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