All Saints Day
There was one happy event when my children were young that the whole family used to look forward to and that was the celebration of the birthday of a friend's daughter on the 4th November. Naturally, over the course of time, it had become a combined celebration not only of Tiffany's birthday, but also Guy Fawkes and Hallowe'en – all rolled into one!
Year after year, a whole crowd of us - mums, dads and kids - would gather around a massive bonfire, roast potatoes, let off the fireworks which everyone had brought, and eat the many offerings of food which all the mums had brought for the occasion.
In the grounds of my friends' home there was a lot of woodland, and there would be placed candles in bottles, in cut out pumpkins and swedes, which would line the pathways through the trees. Then the children, holding torches, would file through the trees like a conger and each grown-up would be wrapped in a sheet, and would then jump out at the kids who would scream with the pure delight of having the living daylights scared out of them! Oh definitely, a good time was had by all, and there was never any food left over by the end of the evening!
But what were we celebrating? Certainly, Tiffany's birthday and then of course Guy Fawkes, but also we were celebrating Halloween, which is All Hallows Eve, the day before All Saints Day. Regretfully, with the secular world having taken over this time with its ghosties and witches, and with things like the American 'trick or treat', it has become an excuse for the rowdy behaviour of some of the younger generation who don't know better, and now, eggs are thrown at cars, buses and taxis or at peoples' front doors.
But consideration of All Saints has produced some interesting facts. Of course, All Saints is the festival in the church held on November 1st when the congregations pray for all the saints, because all baptised Christians belong to the 'communion of saints', dead or alive. The festival which celebrates those who are the faithful departed only is the next festival, All Souls (usually 2ndNov) which is a time when the living pray for the dead.
In some countries, flowers would be put on the graves of loved ones, and even though at the time of the Reformation, the Church of England banned this festival, it has reappeared over the course of time. By the way, just to confuse the issue, the Orthodox Churches celebrate All Hallows on the Sunday following Pentecost, which is in the late spring when the days are getting longer.
Certainly, the dread of darkness and evil things associated with Halloween likely comes from a time when the beginning of November was the start of the Celtic season of Samhain, a season associated with the malign forces of darkness and sorrow as people awaited the onset of winter, a time of death and coldness.
Indeed, our word 'bonfire' is thought to have come from the 'bone-fires' when, at this time, all the animals that could not be fed over the winter season would be slaughtered and all the inedible parts of those animals would be burned on large fires. It was therefore a time of feasting, but as it were, with one's eye over a shoulder, for with this time of the growing length of nights, it would seem that evil was about to triumph.
But surely, instead of celebrating, as it seems to be happening now, the existence of the evil inhabitants of darkness, should we not be gaining strength from the fact that our lives and thoughts can be illuminated by the eternal Light of God and should we not be full of joy that we, as well as those saints who have left this material world, are being encompassed by His immeasurable love? That indeed is something about which we can really celebrate as the dark days of winter come upon us.