“My regimen is lust and avarice for exercise, gluttony and sloth for relaxation.” Mason Cooley
Halloween is almost here. As a child, I am pretty sure Halloween ranked right up there next to Christmas as days and seasons of unbridled avarice and greed. Costumes and dressing up seemed pretty silly, but if that’s what one needed to do in order to acquire a bag full of sweets, then one would just have to bite the bullet, dress up as a pirate or fiend, smear grease paints upon cheek and brow, and have at it, so to speak.
Our aims were pretty modest as a family (growing up). When the time came finally to hit the streets, my brother, sisters, and I knew how far we were allowed to go. We were limited to our neighborhood, which meant a couple blocks in each direction. We weren’t turned loose and allowed to plunder the entire north end of Seattle (like some kids seemed to). We had bags that were very modest in size and when full, we knew we had gone far enough – and back to home we would trundle.
Having a sweet tooth, Halloween is still amongst my favorite holidays. A few weeks ago I picked up a bag of chocolates candies for our neighborhood saints and sinners – I think it has a couple hundred individually wrapped treats. When I brought it home, my own personal sweetie took a look at the bag and raised up an eyebrow. Knowing the question on her mind I told her it was for Halloween.
“How many kids did we have last year?” she asked.
“About fifteen or twenty, as I recall,” said I, “but this year we could have more, and I certainly don’t want anyone coming to our door to go away disappointed because we ran out. That would be scandalous and violate every principal and tenet of hospitality we hold most dear,” I added.
She rolled her eyes in apparent approval of the holiness of my intentions and let the matter drop. I drooled in true, honest, and sincere appreciation.
So, what exactly is Halloween? Why do we celebrate it?
In a land that honors and celebrates the separation of church and state, the truth is that the reason for the season is mostly lost on the world around us. We celebrate Halloween primarily because the date is on our calendars and the stores are filled with costumes and we learn at an early age that it is the one day we are allowed to go from house to house extorting our neighbors to hand over their bounty lest they find their homes egged or tee peed in the morning.
My, how quaint a tradition, eh?
In truth, Halloween is a contraction of All Hallows Eve – the evening before All Saints (or All Hallows) Day (which falls annually on November 1). On that day, Christians celebrate the lives of all the saints who “from their labors rest”.
Who are the saints? “Those are the people,” answered the little girl – pointing at the stained glass windows in church – “the light shines through.”
Christians are a diverse lot, so I can’t speak for all (or even most) of them, but what I mean when I use the term “saint” is someone who’s life has been touched by God, and who passes that on in their living.
It is customary to think of saints as people who have died – especially good people, like St. Mary, the mother of Jesus, or the apostles Peter and Paul, or giants of the faith, like Francis of Assisi. In medieval Europe, people dressed up like the saints of old – to thank God for the example of those lives that made the world a better place.
Dressing up as ghosts and goblins came much later, and the goal was not to scare people, but to make fun of the devil (whose defeat is certain). That’s the reasoning behind the costumes. And why ask for treats?
I think we look to our neighbors, asking them for help in sweetening our dispositions. By myself, I am a hoodlum. With my neighbor (acknowledging I am not alone in this world), I can become a better person. “Trick or Treat” then becomes a cry for help, and that I am glad to do amongst you saints here in this, our valley.