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Religion Column

October 29, 2011

Remember souls and saints after putting Halloween costumes away

This week, many denominations celebrate two festivals; all Saints Day (Nov. 1) and All Souls Day (Nov. 2). These days were preceded by a vigil beginning in 1895, and were first reported in North America in 1911 in a Canadian Newspaper.

The custom of dressing up in costumes for the vigil began with the Goths and from English literature such as "Frankenstein" and "Dracula." In Scotland and Ireland, children would dress up and go from house to house, participating in what was called guising.

The vigil night before the celebration of All Saints Day is known as Halloween or All Hallows Eve. The background of this vigil started as a Celtic celebration called Samhain pronounced sow-an or sow-in. This was derived from an old Irish name meaning the end of summer. Part of the vigil was the carving of different vegetables, a precursor to the use of pumpkins. These carved-out vegetables received a candle and were used as lanterns to remember the souls in purgatory. This meaning was started by the Latin rite of the Roman Catholic Church as well as the Orthodox Church.

All Saints Day started in the Fourth Century as a celebration of remembrance of known and unknown saints and of those who were martyred for their beliefs in Christ. This remembrance at first was exclusively for martyrs and St. John the Baptist. Other saints were added through the years as the process of canonization was established.

All Souls Day is a day of remembrance for all the faithfully departed. This day we remember our families, friends and church family that have preceded us in death. We also remember the souls of those in our churches that have died within the previous year. Our celebrations remember ordinary people and celebrate their lives, ministry and friendship that we shared with them.

Some churches even remember household pets. One illustration is the souls of those who devoted their entire lives in service as priests, deacons and missionaries. Also we remember those who took care of parents and family members and to those who a raising children, grandchildren and sometimes great-grandchildren.

The days remind us of the virtues that the saints possessed along with the souls of all people that have transitioned to their reward in heaven. We all need to be prepared to answer God's question, "What have you done with my Son?" Did we accept or reject his gospel, grace and salvation? Can we then be counted among the saints in glory?

The Rev. Jim Hanson is an independently ordained minister living in Oneonta.

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