Hallowe’en and death

Love it or hate it, it’s that Hallowe’en time of the year. My children were involved in a Hallowe’en disco at their school on Thursday, and had a thoroughly good time. Many Finns dislike the tradition as it is seen to be a commercial import from America, but it is a tradition with some interesting dimensions.

Hallowe’en (trad. 31.10) is connected with the both Catholic and Lutheran All Saints’ Day (trad. 1.11) and the Catholic All Souls’ Day (trad. 2.11). It is hardly surprising that feasts in which we commemorate the dead became associated with ghosts and ghouls in popular culture. I consider this to be healthy. We live in a culture that avoids the subject of death, that finds death difficult to talk about. And yet death and the afterlife are a central part of the Christian message. They are subjects that should be discussed more openly, especially as they concern quite literally everyone. A light-hearted celebration with a supernatural theme makes the subject of death at least a little more approachable.                                                                                                                                             
On Sunday last week we went to a Dia de Muertos celebration. This is the Mexican equivalent of Hallowe’en. The participants build an altar in the home, put photos of their deceased loved ones on it, light candles, draw and colour in pictures of skulls, put the pictures on the altar, pray, and leave offerings of food, drink and even tobacco on the altar – that is, the favourite food etc. of the deceased. It is a bizarre mixture of humorous and serious, pleasure and pain, Catholic and pagan. Apparently the Catholic Church in Mexico approves of it. It is radically different from the Finnish-Lutheran tradition of visiting the graveyard on All Saints’ Day.

It is fascinating how the same Christian feast can take on such different forms in different countries and churches.        

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