It’s not over, you know. Halloween, I mean. We may have made it through the actual night of trick-or-treating with all of its build-up, but like many holidays from olden times, Halloween was, and still should be, part of a complex of holy days. People have long believed that something was transitioning at this time of year. Halloween spun off of its more sacred sibling, All Saints Day. Before Christianization, Samhain perhaps spanned more than one day. As a result of relentless capitalism with its parsimonious counting of days off, like pre-conversion Scrooge, has made all holidays one-day events. Sometimes you need some time to sort out what’s happening and this three-day complex is one of those times. Día de los Muertos begins today—this holiday’s just getting started.
I’ve frequently suggested to the few who’ll listen that we need to take holidays seriously. Culturally we tolerate them as days of less productivity. Who actually gets Halloween off work? And how many of us work in places where “Happy Halloween” is a regular greeting on the 31st? I don’t know about you, but in all my Zoom meetings yesterday nobody was wearing a costume. And yet, at Nashotah House I learned that today is a “day of obligation.” Attending services isn’t optional (of course, it never was optional at Nashotah). But this one was really serious. The Catholic Church moved All Saints Day to November 1 to counter Samhain celebrations encountered in Celtic lands. People are reluctant to give up their religion, however, and the day before All Hallows allowed for Samhain to retain its identity. And even today’s not the end of the season. Tomorrow has traditionally been All Souls Day. But what company’s going to give you three days off at this time of year? We’re gearing up for Black Friday.
Holidays serve to give structure to the passing of time. Winter with its privations is on its way. This autumnal complex of holidays, whether celebrated as Samhain, Día de los Muertos, or Halloween-All Saints-All Souls, reminds us to take a pause and ponder what all of this really means. And not only ponder, but also celebrate. Halloween is fun with its costumes and candy and spooky decorations, but it’s more than just that. It’s a season of existential questions and of preparing for the inevitable cold days ahead. We ignore such things at our own peril. There are reasons for holidays, but those who find meaning only in mammon see no reason to offer even one day off, amid a season we most deeply, intensely need.