Happy (almost) Halloween!

It’s certainly a matter of opinion, but a lot of people would describe Halloween as the most “fun” holiday of the year. Dressing up in wild costumes, free candy exchange, general mischief—whether you like a tame and friendly experience or an intense fright fest, Halloween has a little something for everybody. And the American version of Halloween has been gaining popularity in other countries all over the world for decades.

In an increasingly non-religious world, Halloween might be the most popular secular holiday. But like all holidays in the west, it does have religious origins. Even though IDLM does not endorse any particular religion, the background of Halloween ties directly into the work of end-of-life doulas.

Most people know that “Halloween” is short for “All Hallows’ Eve.” Depending on who you ask, a hallow might be a dead saint or just any dead person. You may choose whichever you like, but the point is that during the Middle Ages, All Hallows’ Eve was followed by All Saints Day and All Hallows’ Day—two days of solemn remembrance. 

When I think of people celebrating this holiday hundreds of years ago, it seems like a nice time for reflection. In the Northern Hemisphere, September and October are harvest months, a season of plenty and celebration which is perfect for partying. As the colder months of November and December approach, it’s a good time to settle in, gather your resources and your loved ones, and get ready to cuddle up near the fire and not do too much for a while. It’s a good time for thinking ahead, and a good time for looking back with thoughts of love and gratitude for those who have said goodbye.

Many other cultures around the world celebrate their own remembrance holidays, and they happen at all times of year. These days not many Americans celebrate All Souls Day and a lot of people don’t even know about All Hallows’ Day, but it has become common practice to visit the graves of loved ones on Memorial Day in May. (Memorial Day began as a holiday to celebrate military dead specifically but has become a time to remember anyone who has died.) In New Orleans, they are pretty much willing to celebrate the spirits of the departed all year round, but Mardi Gras (another formerly Catholic party holiday) is considered the very best time to dress up as a skeleton or zombie for purposes of drinking, dancing, and demanding cheap gifts from strangers. 

In Mexico and many other Latin American countries, they celebrate the Day of the Dead on or around November 2 each year. Hindu peoples have several festivals throughout the year to celebrate and remember their ancestors, most especially in early fall and mid-winter. In China, the Qingming “grave-sweeping” festival is usually held in the spring, and the Japanese Obon festival falls in the middle of August each year.

There is no right or wrong time to remember those who have died, and there is no right or wrong way to do it. Maybe one of these holidays speaks to you, or is already an important part of your life. Maybe you prefer to honor your deceased loved one on their birthday, or the anniversary of their death, or another day that is special. You can make that every single day, if you want. 

These celebrations of remembrance help us to keep people close, even after they have gone. And at the end of the day, everybody loves a party.

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