When clients of mine bought a house on Lexington Avenue in Somerville, I began to celebrate Halloween again. American style. That Trick or Treating style of Halloween had become a non-event in my neighborhood by the early 2000’s. We’d get maybe ten children, then have most of the candy left to tempt us.
For most of the last seven or eight Halloweens, I have been handing our candy on Lexington Avenue. The Trick or Treat tradition is big there. It started long ago, when the Caterino family did Halloween up big in the 1970’s. They became locally famous for having a huge pumpkin on their lawn every year. As time went on and new people moved in, the Trick or Treat spirit spread to more houses. The street’s involvement in the holiday got bigger and bigger. It is now a local institution of sorts. They close off the street and have a block party on Halloween night. Some of the houses are over the top. It is great fun.
The veil between the living and the dead
In several traditions, this time of the year is a time when the veil between the dead and the living is thin.
Samhain: For thousands of years the Celts celebrated Samhain, a holiday to honor the departed. The celebrations included honoring the dead, acknowledging the changing season, and feasting. For their spiritual descendants — pagans, neopagans, Wiccans, and other religious groups — this holiday remains important. It is a holy day, not a street party.
Then came the Christians. The rites of Samhain were adopted, in large part, into the Catholic church in about 1000 CE. All Saints’ Day, the Catholic holiday, looked a lot like Samhain in northern Europe, especially Celtic areas. There was a tradition of masquerading and bonfires.
Trick or treating may have arisen from an All Saints’ Day custom of poor people visiting the houses of wealthier families and receive pastries called soul cakes in exchange for a promise to pray for the souls of the homeowners’ dead relatives. Known as “souling,” the practice was later taken up by children, who would go from door to door asking for gifts such as food, money and ale.[source]
For Mexicans, the Day of the Dead is a similar hybrid holiday that combines Aztec traditions. It started with Aztec rites and continue on at the time of All Saints’ Day.
[Aztec] “festivities were presided over by the goddess Mictecacihuatl. The annual rite features skeletons, altars and other trappings of death, but the ancient holiday celebrates life in its embrace of death. The skeletons dance and sing. Flowers, fruit, and candy decorate altars. Death’s morbid side is buried under music and remembrances.” [source]
“Day of the Dead combines the ancient Aztec custom of celebrating ancestors with All Souls’ Day, a holiday that Spanish invaders brought to Mexico starting in the early 1500s. The holiday, which is celebrated mostly in Mexico on November 1 and 2, is like a family reunion—except dead ancestors are the guests of honor. Day of the Dead is a joyful time that helps people remember the deceased and celebrate their memory.” [source]
Thoughts for the season:
This year, I am more sensitive to life and death issues, since we had a sudden death in the family this July. This year I have reached out to friends who celebrate Samhain and Day of the Dead for help and support. Since these are not my traditions, I am treading lightly, lest I unintentionally minimize the importance of these rites for my friends.
I know so little about these spaces between life and death and how to navigate times when the space is thinnest (Samhain and Day of the Dead). I am a woman who grew up on Trick or Treat and The Great Pumpkin.