All Hallows Eve or Halloween is celebrated annually on the eve of All Saints’ Day (November 1). Some countries mark Halloween with bonfires, visits to ghostly attractions such as the castle of Dracula, and staging of “witch trials” during a tour to Transylvania. In the United States in particular, children go around their neighborhoods in monster costumes for fun-filled “trick or treat.” Despite being a predominantly Catholic country, Halloween’s secular observance has gained wide acceptance in the Philippines since it was introduced by the Americans. Parents, not to be outdone by their kids, wear gruesome zombie masks or prosthetics with matching costumes when they accompany their children around the neighborhood for the much-awaited trick or treat.
In the Philippines, at the onset of October, ghoulish Halloween costumes and decorative items, and candles of various colors, sizes, and shapes start occupying prominent spaces in department stores, competing with Christmas ornaments. Talks shows start featuring guests who have the ability to communicate with the dead, or who have interesting ghost stories to tell. Horror movies are aired on television. Malls, school and some residences take on a Halloween theme featuring spooky cobwebs with replicas of spiders, skulls, and skeletons, jack-o-lanterns, and other Halloween stuff.
Thousands of families nationwide troop to cemeteries on October 31 for an overnight reunion with distant relatives to pray for their departed loved ones and do some catching up.
Halloween can be traced back to the ancient Celtic festival Samhain, the feast of the Lord of the Dead. Ancient beliefs have it that the world of the living and the dead merge on Halloween day, when the spirits of departed ancestors return to earth. It is said that priests of olden times communicated with the dead for prophesies that helped the Celtic community survive through long, severe winter seasons. The festival of Samhain was celebrated by lighting bonfires and sacrificing crops and animals to Celtic deities. Using animal heads and skin, people disguised themselves as animals, or dressed up in scary costumes to prevent spirits of the dead from possessing their bodies.
As we celebrate Halloween this year, let us not allow the ghoulish celebrations to dilute the message of this annual tradition which is celebrated on the eve of All Saints Day: remembering and honoring all those who have gone before us. The essence of the celebration is to pay respect to the memory of our departed loved ones, visiting them in their final resting places, and gathering as a family to spend moments in prayer for their eternal repose. Finally, in keeping with the hard times, families and communities would do well to consider having a simple yet meaningful Halloween celebration.
Have a happy, safe and meaningful Halloween, everyone!