Last week I wrote about the spiritual lessons from Halloween.
But perhaps one of the bigger lessons we can learn from this holiday is this:
Embracing Death. On no other holiday do we treat death not as something to be feared, but as something to be embraced, to have fun with, to laugh at. We put gravestones in our yards. Ghosts and spirits remain the most popular of costumes. And we not only dress up as ghosts and spirits, but we welcome them to our doors and give them treats!
This celebration of death comes from the origins of this day. The name “Halloween” itself comes from a shortened version of “All Hallow’s Eve.” It is the night, the eve, before All Saints Day (All Hallow’s Day), in which we recognize those who have died over the past year.
Mexican culture recognizes this time even further as the “Day of the Dead,” in which they remember family members who have died in a three-day festival.
We need this time, because we live in a culture that wants to avoid the subject of death. Often we will speak of those who have died as those who have “passed away” or whose “time has come” or who “have gone to be with the Lord.” It is difficult to admit and to say those two simple words: they died.
Do not get me wrong: I believe and trust that there is a life beyond this one, though we have no clue what that will be like. I believe and trust that the God who loves us in this life loves us in our death and in whatever heaven and the afterlife might be.
But before we jump to speculations about heaven, we need to face the simple reality that for us and for everyone we know – indeed, for everyone who exists – our existence on this earth will cease. We will die.
We can decide to avoid this knowledge, hide from it. Or we can decide to embrace it.
Halloween, All Saints Day, and the Day of the Dead all invite us to embrace death, make friends with it, even laugh at it.
More than that, this time of the year invites us to remember those who have died. Though we believe in a resurrection from the dead, this time of year invites us to see that these lives we remember remain with us still. They each passed on to us the gift of themselves in their goodness, in their faults, in their human-ness, in their stories.
And when we know what they have given us, we are then encouraged to live our lives in such a way that they have a lasting impact on others. With each gesture, large or small, we can make this world a better place.
So, as you finish putting away those Halloween decorations, as you continue to eat all that leftover candy, reflect for a moment on those you know who have died. How did they help you be a better person? How did they help make this place a better world?
And then ask yourself: what impact have you made? What impact can you make? What can you do this day to help somebody? To make this place a better world? To live faithfully with the gifts that God has given you?
Let this time of the year help you to embrace death, dance with death, all to give your life more full meaning.