Thought for the Day - 01/11/2013 - Rev Lucy Winkett
Today, 1st November, we’re in the middle of three festivals that have their origins in our Christian history. Today is All Saints Day, therefore last night was All Hallows Eve and tomorrow is All Souls.
These three autumn days are religious and cultural attempts to deal with the inescapable reality that all of us will die. The medieval thought process goes like this: If All Saints celebrates the redeemed, then understandably, the dammed will want to disrupt it – so the night before is a wild night when the unredeemed roam the earth. And the day after All Saints is All Souls, a gentler festival altogether, which gathers our memories of all those who have died, declaring that no one is lost and that nothing, not even death, can separate us from the love of God.
Taken together they’re communal expressions of deep human wonderings; what happens when we die? Is it a great adventure or a terrible disaster? How do we go on living when someone we love dies?
The really interesting thing is that these festivals haven’t gone away despite coming from a pre-modern world view. But the only one that makes its way out of the church and into public consciousness is All Hallows Eve, or Halloween. Last night, made even more prominent this year because of half term, children will have been told that the usual rules about not accepting sweets from strangers have been suspended as they trick or treat their way around the neighbourhood and grown adults will have had a few beers before attempting to carry a pitchfork to a party on the bus. Retail sales related to Halloween have risen from £12 million in 2001 to well over £300m last year. It’s now the UK’s third highest selling festival. (eg Telegraph 16 October Hayley Dixon)
But in amongst the commercialism, I think that our modern celebration of this trilogy of feasts reveals something about us: all our energy goes into the one that is expressing our deepest fears; the frightening and unsettling aspects of death. We make it fun because the real fear is almost too much to bear. It’s collective escapism and who can blame us? Most days we don’t want to think about it – but once a year, we, generally safely, express huge communal anxiety about forces beyond our control; the forces of chaos.
That’s not a bad thing in itself; but today and tomorrow we will remember other things; human courage and selflessness, joy, sadness and love. Mirroring the process of grief itself, perhaps as a society, we need to have been through the anarchic night to give us strength to face the light of day hoping that together we can live well, and hold the forces of chaos at bay.