Halloween is approaching…that perplexing holiday for Christian parents. Should we celebrate it or not? If so, how? If not, how will we handle it with our kids?
But I want to talk about a different holiday, tied up with All Hallow’s Eve.
I remember feeling a perplexed horror when I first learned about Dia de los Muertos in Spanish class my freshman year of high school. Dia de los Muertos is typically celebrated November 1 & 2nd, coinciding with All Saints and All Souls Day on the Christian calendar. It seemed so strange to see little children eating skull-themed candies and families camping out at graveyards. In my understanding at that time, it seemed like the “bad” parts of Halloween…but much worse. After all, they were celebrating…death!
But recently I saw a news-magazine show about latino immigrants to the U.S. and I gained a different perspective. A young mother — just about my age — explained how and why her family celebrates the Day of the Dead. Drawn from her cultural and faith traditions, she and her children set up a lovely festive table with a prominent photograph of her dead father. Around the photo were candles, candies, brightly-colored paper flags, and flowers. They cooked special empanadas and homemade sugar candies (yes, they were skulls). But what really struck me was that they spent hours that day telling stories and favorite memories about their dad/grandpa. They celebrated his life in a powerful, phenomenal way. It wasn’t scary or strange — it was courageous and loving.
It seems to me that in my cultural background we tend to ignore our dead loved ones. We may talk about them sometimes, but we never really look their death square in the face and purposefully talk about them at length, welcoming the mix of emotions that this will produce — joy, laughter, tears, quiet sadness.
One Christian holiday that I’ve been thinking more about the past couple of years is All Saints Day — November 1st. So here’s a new family faith-building idea for you that we’re going to try this year. I’d like to re-work this holiday a bit to become a special, celebratory time for our family, drawing from my children’s latino heritage with some of the Christian aspects of Dia de los Muertos and also bringing our own unique touch to it. I’d like to celebrate the “saints” that have gone before us in our family — using photographs, telling stories, and thanking God for their lives. And the tradition we plan to start this year is singing the powerful hymn “For All the Saints.”
How could you use these few days — typically stressful for Christian parents — to help your children learn about death (and eternal life!) from an accurate, Christian perspective? How could you transform it into a time in which your kids learn about their grandparents or great-grandparents, discovering more about themselves as they hear about their heritage?
I’ll end with the lyrics to “For All the Saints” — and I’d love to hear YOUR ideas!
For all the saints, who from their labors rest,
Who Thee by faith before the world confessed,
Thy Name, O Jesus, be forever blessed.
Thou wast their Rock, their Fortress and their Might;
Thou, Lord, their Captain in the well fought fight;
Thou, in the darkness drear, their one true Light.
For the Apostles’ glorious company,
Who bearing forth the Cross o’er land and sea,
Shook all the mighty world, we sing to Thee:
For the Evangelists, by whose blest word,
Like fourfold streams, the garden of the Lord,
Is fair and fruitful, be Thy Name adored.
For Martyrs, who with rapture kindled eye,
Saw the bright crown descending from the sky,
And seeing, grasped it, Thee we glorify.
O blest communion, fellowship divine!
We feebly struggle, they in glory shine;
All are one in Thee, for all are Thine.
O may Thy soldiers, faithful, true and bold,
Fight as the saints who nobly fought of old,
And win with them the victor’s crown of gold.
And when the strife is fierce, the warfare long,
Steals on the ear the distant triumph song,
And hearts are brave, again, and arms are strong.
The golden evening brightens in the west;
Soon, soon to faithful warriors comes their rest;
Sweet is the calm of paradise the blessed.
But lo! there breaks a yet more glorious day;
The saints triumphant rise in bright array;
The King of glory passes on His way.
From earth’s wide bounds, from ocean’s farthest coast,
Through gates of pearl streams in the countless host,
And singing to Father, Son and Holy Ghost: