Halloween, All Saints and All Souls Days celebrate the natural new year, a time when traditionally the harvest is complete, and signs of winter begin to appear. In many religions, this is a holy time when it is believed that the veil between the worlds of the living and the dead is very thin and fragile.
Many of us don’t even know our family lines well enough to tell the stories, remember the memories, and pass on a legacy. Maybe it’s something we can begin for better stability?
Halloween or All Hallows (Holy) Eve is October 31.
November 2, All Souls’ Day, is an opportunity to remember family members and friends who have passed. People remember, tell stories, and pray to those who passed on to ask for blessings. Food is shared and sometimes left out overnight for the visiting spirits.
by Cathal Ó Searcaigh
Anocht agus mé ag meabhrú go mór fá mo chroí
Gan de sholas ag lasadh an tí ach fannsholas gríosaí
Smaointím airsean a dtug mé gean dó fadó agus gnaoi.
A Dhia, dá mba fharraige an dorchadas a bhí eadrainn
Dhéanfainn long den leabaidh seo anois agus threabhfainn
Tonnta tréana na cumhaí anonn go cé a chléibhe…
Tá sé ar shiúl is cha philleann sé chugam go brách
Ach mar a bhuanaíonn an t-éan san ubh, an crann sa dearcán;
Go lá a bhrátha, mairfidh i m’anamsa, gin dá ghrá.
English translation by Nigel McLoughlin:
Tonight as I search the depths of my heart,
in the dark of the house and the last ember-light,
I’m thinking of one I loved long ago.
And if the darkness between us became like the sea,
I’d make a boat of this bed, plunge its bow
through the waves that barge the heart’s quay.
Although he is gone and won’t ever be back,
I’ll guard in my soul the last spark of his love,
like the bird in the egg and the tree in the nut.
In the early years of the Christian faith, there was a consistent effort to eradicate pagan practices and to replace these with Christian festivals. The Roman Catholic church changed the Celtic Samhain festival and the Roman Feast of the Lamures and renamed them “All Hallows’ Eve,” in an attempt to turn peoples’ thinking away from a focus on the fright of death and ghosts and towards the many saints advocating for Christians in the Kingdom of Heaven. All Saints’ Day was established as the first of November with All Hallows’ Eve replacing the festival of Samhain. All Saints’ Day was probably first started by Pope Boniface IV, who consecrated the Pantheon at Rome to the Virgin Mary and all the Martyrs on May 13, 609 AD.
In the Catholic Church, All Saints’ Day is a “holy day of obligation.” Attendance at mass is a requirement on these days. All Saints’ Day is also commemorated by members of the Eastern Orthodox Church as well as some protestant churches, such as Lutheran and Anglican churches.
All Souls’ Day was established in the early fifth century with a similar intention. This day is not a holy day of obligation. The more sanctified remembering of those who have died help new Christians relate to the departed in a less frightening, or less pagan way.
Lá Féile na Marbh
On the eve of All Souls’ Day in Ireland, families lit a candle in the window to guide the souls of the Dead back to their old homes. As the veil between the worlds thinned, a sluagh, or host, of spirits walked the land, and encountered the same hospitality the Celts have always shown the living, Doors and windows were left unfastened, and any passage through the house that they once used was kept open. The table was laid with the best white cloth, and special food was left out for them to enjoy.
Until quite recently in the Irish Gaeltacht, families kept a seomra thiar, or “room to the West” – sometimes just an alcove or nook–where they placed objects that reminded them of departed ones. At sunset, the family solemnly turned towards the setting sun and spent time in loving remembrance of them. A candle was lit for each soul, then the whole family sat down to a communal feast in their honor.
It was once widely believed that the souls of the faithful departed would return to their family home on All Soul’s Night. Great care was taken to make them feel welcome.
Rituals included sweeping the floor clean, lighting a good fire, and placing the poker and tongs in the shape of a cross on the hearth. A bowl of spring water was put on the table, along with a place setting for each deceased relative. In some areas, children would go “soul-caking” – they’d visit neighbors and beg for cakes in exchange for prayers to be said for the dead.
Families would usually retire early, but before they did, many of them went to the cemetery where their loved ones were buried. They would say prayers for each departed family member, make sure the gravesites were neat and tidy, and then they would leave a candle burning on each grave.
During evening prayers, the family would again light a candle for each of their departed relatives . Often, a candle would be placed in the window of a room where a relative had died. Or, it might be placed in a window that faced in the direction of the cemetery. Then, when evening prayers were over, the candles would either be extinguished or left to burn out.
The door was always left unlatched.
Historically, the Celtic nations have always had a great respect for their ancestors and they believed that at certain times of year, the boundaries between mortals and the souls of the dead cease to exist. This is especially true of the “Three Nights of the End of Summer” – Hallowe’en, Samhain, and All Soul’s Day. The ancients also believed that the dead were the repositories of wisdom and lore and that one of the reasons they return is to speak to their descendants.
Its from these visits by a beloved ancestor that the more fortunate among us are given two very special gifts: the ability to remember old days and old ways, and a deeper understanding of how we are forever linked by blood to the past – and to the future. Source
Ideas for Celebration:
- Learn about El Día de los Muertos/The Day of the Dead. This is a lovely site with timelines, history, traditions, and recipes.
- Put out photos of loved ones who have passed away. Tell stories about their lives.
- Share a harvest meal with friends and family.
- Light candles inside and outside – in jack o’ lanterns or votive holder or pretty decorative autumn globes.
- Plant flower bulbs in remembrance and in promise of spring!
- Kids Party Games
- Activities for Kids
- Kids Party Ideas
- Watch or read Coco.
- Printables from Shower of Roses
- A Slice of Smith Life
- Attend church services. Or do these prayer services at home.
- Visit a memorial in your city.
- Visit a cemetery. Bonus if there are famous people or family members or passed friends.
- Go on a history walk in your town. Our town offers ghost walks about town founders and important people.
- Go to a thin place and feel the Spirit. Pray and thank Her for the past year and the future year.
It is certainly a good idea around Halloween to help little ones think loving thoughts about our beloved ancestors. To remember them and think of them watching over us with interest and affection can help us all feel protected in this time of year as the days of light turn to the days of darkness.