Days of the dead and Halloween
In the recent synchroblog on Halloween, several bloggers say Halloween as a kind of day of the dead. See, for example: Morehead’s Musings: Rethinking Evangelical Postures on Halloween.
John Morehead also referred to an earlier post, where he compared it with the Mexican Day of the Dead Morehead’s Musings: Imaginarium, Cornerstone and Days of the Dead.
Several of the synchrobloggers, coming from an Evangelical Protestant background, remarked on the lack of an adequate approach to death in their theological tradition. I thought it might be useful to put together a slightly fuller description of some other Christian approaches to this.
In the Western Christian tradition, Hallowe’een, or All Hallows Eve, is the Vigil of All Saints Day, observed on 1 November, which is followed by All Souls Day, on 2 November.
In Anglo-Catholic practice, in the past (which was based on Roman Catholic practice), there would be the first Evensong of All Saints on Halloween, followed by Mattins and Eucharist on 1 November, and the second Evensong in the evening of 1 November. All these are joyful services, in white vestments, celebrating the saints in heaven.
On 2 November, All Souls Day, there would be Mattins and Requiem Mass in black vestments, with unbleached candles, followed by the Absolutions of the Dead at a catafalque. There would be Evensong on the evening of All Souls.
The Orthodox Church does not have a single “Day of the Dead”, like the Western All Souls Day. Every Saturday is a “day of the dead”. In addition, there are at least five Soul Saturdays during the year. These are on the Saturday of Meatfare (just before Lent), the 2nd, 3rd and 4th Saturdays in Lent, and the Saturday before Pentecost. In some traditions there is another Soul Saturday later in the year.
On these days it is customary to hold a Memorial Service (Panikhida, Mnemosyne), sometimes called a Requiem, but unlike Western practice, it does not take the form of a Requiem Mass. Parts of Psalm 119 are sung, and there are various hymns and prayers, and then the blessing of koliva. The main ingredient of koliva is boiled wheat, a reminder of resurrection. At the end everyone eats some of the koliva.
The same memorial service is used on the 3rd, 9th and 40th day after a person’s death, and annually thereafter. It is probably the service most familiar to most people in Orthodox countries. Even people who are not regular churchgoers will usually attend memorial services for members of their families.
This is just a very simplified description of some Christian observances for the dead.