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 elaborate songs with multiple verses. This year was even busier than prior years and again 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. My father died just a couple of months ago so I collected all my family photos to make a little ofrenda again this year. Again, not as elaborate as the fancy Mexican versions, but this year I still had some marigolds, which I dug up ad put in little pots. Sadly, no time to go hunting for sugar skulls. I suppose if I had thought of it earlier I could have gotten them on line, but I really would rather go to a Mexican market.
Given the forecast of strong storms and a radar map that show a front which stretches from the Gulf of Mexico to the Gulf of St. Lawrence I did a lot of food preparation for my traditional Samhain ancestor supper yesterday evening, concerned about loosing power. Halloween storms are famous for being bad. Think of the 2011 nor’easter. It dumped snow on trees that were often still in leaf, adding extra weight, with the ground in some areas still soft from a preceding warm, rainy period that increased the possibility trees could be uprooted. This is our exact condition this year. The leaves just started falling in the last couple of days. We are not expecting snow, but trees could still fall and accidents could knock out power poles. Then of course there was the famous “Perfect Storm” of 1991. That was also a Halloween storm. It may not be a hurricane like system the map showed possible severe weather from Birmingham Alabama to Binghampton New York. I wonder how much of a damper it will put on trick or treating tonight. We shall see.