Honoring the Dead
For me, Halloween is no longer about costumes and candy. It’s a chance to honor the dead, all those who have influenced and touched our lives, human and non-human. Every year, my husband and I gather photos and spread them on an altar, light candles, and place family heirlooms or keepsakes along with offerings of food and drink for the departed.
Samhain is a pagan holiday celebrating the Celtic New Year that predates Halloween as we know it. It’s a day meant to honor the ancestors and the cycle of life and death.
This is the night when the gateway between
our world and the spirit world is thinnest.
Tonight is a night to call out those who came before us.
Tonight we honor our ancestors.
Spirits of our ancestors, we call to you,
and we welcome you to join us for this night.
We know you watch over us always,
protecting us and guiding us,
and tonight we thank you.
(common Samhain prayer)
Let me first say, I don’t hate Mother’s Day. “Why I Hate Mother’s Day” is the title of a piece writer Anne Lamott wrote for Salon.com that takes on the way our culture views and treats mothers: “No one is more sentimentalized in America than mothers on Mother’s Day, but no one is more often blamed for the culture’s bad people and behavior.” I tend to agree. It’s a holiday designed for Hallmark more than actual mothers, and even then, the term “mother” is very narrowly defined. I am not a mother (in the traditional sense), but my own mother has been a huge influence in my life, both in good and in bad ways. Every day is Mother’s Day for me because I can’t imagine a day when I’m not talking with her on the phone, particularly when we are separated geographically by a continent.
It’s interesting, though, to think about her life, apart from the history that we share. She had her own host of dreams, including the one where she gets a horse and changes her name to “Texas Annie.” Later in life, she traded in the dream of being a cowgirl for a teaching career, which she maintained for over forty years. I, too, have become a teacher, but, ironically, I am highly allergic to horses. And whatever she is or hopes to be now that she’s retired from teaching, this is one of my favorite pictures of her: a beaming, confident girl ready to ride into the sunset.