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Hallo again to all.

It is Allhallowtide, the Hallowmas season. Historically Hallowmas is the triduum of All Saints' Eve (Halloween), All Saints' Day (All Hallows' Day) and All Souls' Day, which spans October 31 to November 2. Allhallowtide is a time to remember the faithful dead, whether we call them saints or souls or hallows. The Anglican world generally recognises All Saints' Day on 1 November and All Souls' Day on 2 November, but if you ask ten experts about the difference between the two days you will get ten different answers, or perhaps seven different answers and three responses of 'I have no idea'. If you explore with a search engine you will frequently find that explanations of the difference, particularly those from the nineteenth century, refer quickly to the Roman Catholic doctrine of purgatory.

The American cultural notion of Hallowmas has become 'Halloween, followed by two days to recover from it'. The American tradition of decorating with witches and pumpkins and skeletons and sending children out to beg for candy seems to have originated in Scotland and Ireland, but has by this early part of the twenty-first century become quite global, displacing gentler customs such as the English 'souling'. As evidence of its ubiquity, phrase-based translation systems offer translations of 'Trick or treat' into dozens of languages, though some of them (such as the French 'La charité s'il-vous-plaît') don't contain the near-extortion threat of the Yank original.

In the church we attended this morning, the preacher did not try very hard to explain the difference between All Souls' Day and All Saints' Day, and it seemed to us that the congregation didn't really care. Everyone's family dead are saints, all of them, utterly ignoring the issue of formal canonisation. The Mexican celebration of Día de Muertos, which draws no distinction between saints and souls, is widely and aggressively celebrated as a Christian holiday during Hallowmas in most places exposed to Mexican culture. Its celebration certainly pre-dates the arrival of Christianity in Mexico, but missionaries everywhere did an excellent job of merging Christian feasts with indigenous events.

It might at first seem odd to celebrate the dead with festive displays of skulls and skeletons and mementos mori. Oughtn't celebration of them be a celebration of what they were, not what they are? After watching, up close, thousands of children trick-or-treating in tableaux set with realistic plastic skeletons and skulls and mock gravestones, we have come to believe otherwise. Death is the final stage of life, and exposing children to sanitized symbols of death and the dead seems not to traumatise them but to introduce them to the notion of death almost at the level of toys.

Most of the great octaves of our church calendar are known mostly to historians and Anglicans. People sing the jingle about the Twelve Days of Christmas, but most take down their Christmas decorations well before Epiphany; if they've heard of the Octave of Christmas they likely aren't sure when it ends. Likewise, most tridua have become footnotes. Hallowmas, the triduum, is culturally a footnote. We are so glad it is alive and well in our church, even if it is in danger of being killed by a fierce wild priest.

See you next week.

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1 November 2015

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