It is almost Halloween: a time of scary stories, horror movies and dire safety warnings. What we miss in all this get-the-candy rushing about is what we’re celebrating and where it comes from. Yes, the religious right might ban Halloween because they think it’s pagan, but even they forget their heritage on this dark holiday.
Halloween or some version of Souls Day Eve is celebrated all over the world and in some places All Hallows Eve is a solemn and austere time. Our Halloween is really a combination of Druid practices with a lot of other religious beliefs thrown in. We are winking at the Druidic past and what underlies the origins of our faith.
As with almost all Christian observances - new religious rites were deliberately laid on top of ancient festivals. Halloween emerged from an act in the 8th Century when the All Saints Chapel in Rome was dedicated. That new holy day suppressed one of the oldest Celtic festivals called Samhein –a harvest festival - always celebrated on the last day of October. In a sense it is not unlike how Alcoholics Anonymous was built on the Oxford Group practices.
But what else is going on around Halloween? Except for the candy, October 31st doesn’t leave much for grownups. Being scared of goblins lost its sway when I got old enough to lose people that I loved. I think that’s true for many of us as we age. Baby Boomers - so mobile and with access to technology - have been a generation that has always been able to stay in touch. And maybe we still expect to even when our loved ones have died.
That’s what this holiday is about. There is a belief that in the days near the end of October the veil separating this world and the next is thinner and so we are able to be closer to those who have died. So we create rituals and customs and yes, Halloween.
A ritual is a way of ordering life. In recovery our meetings are rituals and our step work, service work, and giving anniversary chips, and celebrating milestones are kinds of recovery rituals. And in our faith communities too--Purim and Advent, hearing Mass or saying Kaddish, are ceremonies that help us sort and reframe our memories. When someone dies the relationship doesn’t stop, it’s renegotiated, literally re-conceived. This is especially important as we continue in recovery because we will live - sober - through the deaths of those we love and care about.
The root of the word grieve is heavy. We carry our dead as a cherished burden. Death ends a life but not a relationship. Who would want to close the door on that?