All Hallows, Saints, & Souls
I have a conflicted relationship with Halloween. As a kid, dressing up and going door-to-door begging for candy was this ultimate ideal. The memories still glimmer with a bit of magic. One year dressed as a princess and the next as a ladybug. I remember sacrificing my childhood comfort because I wanted to be a scarecrow; I convinced my mom to tie my arms to a wooden dowel across my shoulders before I went to school and so I couldn't use my arms all day; attempting schoolwork, and lunch, that day was a useless pursuit. At school, we always had a costume parade. In the evening, we would carry around empty pillowcases to fill with candy and then at the end of the night, we would all gather at grandma's house for wassail and doughnuts. Naturally we would all dump out our candy bags to count and compare our "hauls".
While the memories are magic-tinged, I no longer find the same joy. Part of that is because I don't yet have kids of my own with whom to enjoy that child-like excitement. Haunted houses and loud dance parties, the options left when you get "too old" to trick-or-treat, are just really not my thing. It seems that for the past decade, when Halloween rolls around, I blink and wonder how make it more meaningful and magic-filled. This year, I dove deep into the historical traditions of this season , and I have been inspired in small and simple ways to make this time of year more meaningful by degrees. Perhaps if you feel flat about All Hallows Eve you might join me in the pursuit of a more meaningful Hallowtide.
Hallowtide, is a period of three days that honors the death of the abundant harvest season and honors the dead. Pumpkins, squash and root vegetables are the final living things to be cleared out of the garden, before the ground freezes. In honoring the dying nature, it must have seemed a rather appropriate time to honor death and the dead in many other respects. So for three days there are a series of days for feasting and honoring our kindred dead: All Hallows' Eve or Halloween (October 31), All Saints (November 1), and All Souls (November 2).
As with most of the holidays, we find that period of the year has ancient origins. A few centuries into the common era, as the Christian conversion was reaching its tipping point, these traditionally pagan celebrations were given a Christian spin. This article we are going to talk about the some of the Christian and pagan traditions, particularly in Europe. Several years ago, Michelle Thorley (Flora Familiar) wrote about the Mexican traditions of Dia de Los Muertos, or day of the dead, for our journal here. These traditions are shared in several other Latin American countries. It is beautiful to see the variety of traditions that developed around the world to honor our kindred dead.
All Hallow's Eve:
Halloween has become the more commercially popular holiday. Anciently, after the harvest was finished in October, this is when animals were slaughtered and the meat smoked for the winter months ahead. With a loving respect for these friendly beasts that provided food for a long winter, it was believed that their deaths opened a portal between life and death. As the animal spirits departed, this opening of the realm of the dead, to both angels and demons. Thus, an eve of mischief, ensued.
Bonfires were kept burning to keep the ghouls away and people would gather to smoke meat and stay warm by the light of the fire. Of course, the pranks began, as people began to dress up as ghosts and angelic hosts were both imitated by people wanting to frighten their friends and family.
All Saints Day:
After an evening of mischief and revelry, the souls of all the saints came to battle the demons back into the realm of the dead. In celebration of the end of harvest, and to honor the saints willingness to do battle on the behalf of humanity, the saints were celebrated and venerated and a feast day commenced.
In many countries today, the celebrations of All Saints (also known as All Hallows) has been combined with the celebration of All Souls Day. Historically the two days were distinct: one day to celebrate the saints and another to honor the souls of your own ancestors.
In Poland, they leave their doors and windows open to welcome the spirits of the dead. Use our acorn door wedge to prop your doors open, and enjoy just a bit of that crisp autumn air.
Host a harvest meal with close friends. Fresh bread, pumpkin soup, and walnut salad on the menu. Perhaps even some smoked meats or other late season vegetables. You may need our pumpkin dishes to serve the meal of course.
All Souls Day:
After a day of feasting the triumph of the saints over the demons, the third and final day of Hallowtide is a time to honor the all the souls of all who have died.
Many Eastern European countries lead a candle brigade to the cemetery and leave bright berries or flowers on the graves. There are some similar traditions in Latin America celebrating Dia de Los Muertos (read about those traditions here).
Light is a powerful metaphor, to chase away the darkness. So if you dare, spend a candlelit evening outside at the graves of loved ones long past. Honor them by sharing the stories of their lives. It would also be a great place to use our Folks & Fables tradition.