The Notion of Interfaith Understanding by Diane Johnson

It is quite intriguing to contemplate this question of whether or not Halloween is a holiday.

Let’s put aside the mythical and overabundant images of happy children in skeleton costumes, disgruntled dogs in hot dog outfits and sugar craved ‘tweens collecting trick and treats. Halloween or All Hallow’s Eve is a holiday; one of the most powerful celebrations for those of us (and their cultures) who believe in the ongoing relationship between ourselves and our ancestors.

Samhain, occurring on October 31, is heralded as one of the most sacred days in the Wiccan, pagan, Druid, and Celtic revivalist calendar. There are modern day Druids (and witches, faeries and Celts — oh my!) The Day of the Dead is observed, not only in Mexico but all throughout Latin America and Spain — a consequence of the Catholic Church codifying and overlaying All Saints Day or All Souls Day into the indigenous cultures of Mexico and  throughout the Spanish speaking world.

Earth-based traditions such as Santeria, Faerie, Yoruba, and Candomble all have celebrations which emphasize the unique and profound relationship between those living and those who have passed over, moving beyond the curtain of human existence. During this time of the earth transitioning from fall into winter (in the Western hemisphere) the curtain that separates the living from the dead is gossamer and the ability to give tribute and pay homage is at hand.

Halloween is the reconfiguring of the ancient Celtic holiday that heralded the beginning of the winter during Pre-Christian times.  The ancient Druids and Celts possessed a worldview that a unique array of creatures inhabited the earth — spirits, faeries, animals, the souls of those departed — and that on Samhain those individuals who had died in the last year moved over into the otherworld; hence they needed some help (those big bonfires) to help them on their way. Halloween is the centuries old reconfiguration of this ancient holiday. What is challenging is how Samhain and Day of the Dead continue to be misappropriated and misunderstood in contemporary society.  Halloween is the mainstream culture’s mishandling of a very important day in the calendar of a much lesser known spiritual tradition — there are robust contemporary pagan, Wiccan, Druid revivialists, and neo-pagans practicing Samhain.

The notion that all spiritual traditions, especially those which operate outside of the dominant culture, need to be respected is evident in the trivialization of a sacred day.  But so often, sacred spiritual practices and traditions (and celebrations) have been maligned simply because of ignorance, judgement, and a lack of understanding of how individuals experience and celebrate the Divine.  The whole witches, skeletons, goblins, ghouls fiasco unfortunately propels the misunderstanding of the origins of ancient sacred traditions. And isn’t it a shame that it’s the one day that adults get to get dressed up in visions of other creatures.

Photo by the White House, US Government, via Flickr.

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