When the nights begin to chill and the leaves turn color and begin to fall, my thoughts turn to All Hallows’ Eve. Not the rampant candy fest Halloween but the older holiday, the tridium of Allhallowtide, which lasts three days from 31 October to 2 November inclusive.that was layered over the ancient Celtic festival of the dead. A tridium is a three day religious feast and in many traditions of western Christianity, the liturgical celebration begins at Vespers on October 31st. Because November 1st was All Saints’ day, it was “hallowed” or holy, as was the evening before, hence All Hallow’s Eve. The following day, November 2nd is All Souls’ Day, the day which honors and remembers the ordinary mortals, rather than the lofty saints.
It was not until the eighth century that the Church appointed these days. It is thought this time of yeat was chosen to usurp the celabration of pagan festivals in northern Europe, like the Celtic Samhain and the Roman festival honoring Pomona. It does seem like an appropriate time of year regardless. The harvest is in and the fields are fallow, leaves are falling and the days are growing short. In an agrarian society, this was a time of year conducive to introspection. These were strictly solemn observances in most places and it was regarded as a time to be cautious of the night.
The modern trick or treat has migrated a very long wat from the original medieval door to door custom of “souling” where the poor and children would promise prayers for the departed in return for a souls cake, a small round cake of a type of shortbread. Variations of a chant were sung, from a basic “a soul cake, a soul cake, have mercy on all Christian souls for a soul cake,” to more elaboate songs with multiple verses. This year was very busy just before these days and I did not get to try making soul cakes as I wanted to. I did find a nice article here, with recipe and explanation that I saved to try, perhaps for Christmas as souling was also done them.
From another part of the world come a celebration both solemn and festive. I am really fond of the Mexican Dia de Muertos. Originating in southern Mexico it has to northern Mexico and the United Sates as well as other Latin America countries. With the encouagement of the church the original Aztec day of the dead in summer was integrated into the autumn liturgical holy days. It is a family oriented holiday, cemetaries are visited and grave tidied up and decorated and deceased family members remembered. Remembrance altars called ofrendas are built at the cemetary or in the home with the favorite foods and drinks and small personal items of the departed. They are decorated with Mexican marigolds, sugar skull candies and pan de muertos (bread of the dead). Our family is spread out and most of us do not live near the graves of our people. My mother wished to be cremated and so there is no grave.This year I was invited to an ancestor ceremony based on a native American model. The leader had permission to adapt the ceremony from the tribal elders she worked with. People ere so happy to share the stories of beloved family memebers. This inspired me to make a little ofrenda, putting up pictures of my grandparents, my mother and aunts and uncles who have gone. Not as elaborate as the fancy Mexican versions, I enjoyed doing it and next year will try to add the marigolds, sugar skulls and make the pan day muertos, which is basically a sweet bread recipe. I found one I liked here. I know there are regional variations, it would be fun to explore them. I don’t know where I would get sugar skulls locally but a friend told me there are kits with molds to make your own. I would love to make time for doing that next year.