Hallowtide  

 

The 31st of October (Winterfylleþ) marks the beginning of the three day period of Hallowtide literally meaning ‘holy season’. It consists of three feast days; the the Feast of All Hallows Eve, or Halloween, on October 31st itself, the Feast of All Hallows, or All Saints Day, on 1st November and the Feast of All Souls, or All Souls Day, on 2nd November. This is a very important time within the calendar of the EFC as it focuses on our ancestors and our links with them.

Halloween

 

 

All Hallow’s Eve, or Halloween as it is better known, itself is a day of preparation for the two principal feasts that follow it. It is a celebration of family, both living and dead, and a time to light candles to invite ancestral spirits into our homes but also to guide them back to the spirit world. It is also a time for a bit of fun, carving out Jack’o’Lanterns from Swedes or Pumpkins, dressing up and playing party games.  

 

In medieval Europe, it was the custom to ring Church bells for the souls still in purgatory and for cryers dressed in black to parade around the streets ringing a bell and urging people to remember the poor souls still in this limbo land. This custom was known as ‘Souling’. Homes were blessed with holy water to protect them from evil spirits and witches. Soul cakes were baked and shared out to the parading crowds.

 

Some traditions held that on this day the souls of the dead could roam the earth and take revenge on old enemies still living. For this reason, the practice of wearing costumes to hide your identity grew up, thought to be the origin of some modern Halloween customs.  Some medieval traditions held that once a year, on Halloween, the dead in the Church yards rose to celebrate a deathly carnival called the ‘danse macabre’. Again, this is likely to be the origin of dressing up as ghosts and ghouls.

 

People carved out lanterns, traditionally from Swedes (Turnips or Rutababa) and lit candles within them. In England and other Germanic lands these are thought to have represented the souls of departed relatives and ancestors, symbolically returned to our households as guests for the night. People also lit candles, known as ‘Soul Lights’ throughout their houses to encourage the souls of their relatives to visit them.

 

Bonfires were then lit to help spirits find their way to the path of light in heaven and discourage mischievous spirits from harming folk. The lighting of bonfires and firework displays then, more properly belong to Halloween as part of these traditions, but were moved to November 5th for political reasons.

 

In some parts of rural England during the 19th century, it was the custom for families to gather on hillsides and for one person to hold a pitchfork of burning straw whilst the rest prayed for the souls of friends and relatives until the flames went out.

 

But underlying all the fun, was a serious preparation for the two holy days to follow. There were clearly historical practices that were very similar to many of our modern day practices on Halloween. So it is not inappropriate for folk Christians to engage with these. However, this should be done in the right spirit and that spirit is to prepare for All Hallows and All Souls day by honouring our departed ancestors; praying for them and celebrating the victory of life over death and light over darkness. Like many religious festivals, Halloween has become too commercialised and too much of a celebration of evil. We do not encourage this.

 

 

All Saints Day

 

 

Celebrated on 1st of November (Blodmonað), this is a day of more sober reflection following the merriment of Halloween. On this day, we should remember the holy people of our folk and those who have given their lives for God.

 

 

The EFC does honour known Saints and Martyrs as holy people and people who have given their lives for God and they are seen as ancestral members of our folk worthy of particular honour. However, we do not give them the status they have in some Christian traditions. We do not worship them and we do not pray to them.

 

The feast of All Saints was originally celebrated on 13th May, but was moved to 1st November, by Pope Gregory III in the eight century, when he founded an oratory in St. Peter's for the relics ‘of the holy apostles and of all saints, martyrs and confessors, of all the just made perfect who are at rest throughout the world’. However, there are some who maintain that it has origins in the pagan observation of 13 May, the Feast of the Lemures, in which the malevolent and restless spirits of the dead were propitiated.

 

 

All Souls Day

 

 

All Saints is followed on the 2nd of November by the Feast of All Souls, which celebrates Faithful Departed. These are all those souls who have not yet been purified and perfected in heaven. It relates more to one’s own departed family and ancestors but can also celebrate the dear departed of our folk as a whole. On this day, we remember them and pray for them to help them on their journey to become Saints. It also used to be customary to visit graves on this day and to hold special meals in which the departed are remembered and commemorated. A traditional biscuit eaten on this day is the ‘soul cake’, a type of short cake. I remember these at school. They were eaten with prunes and custard and we called them ‘grave stones.’

 

Go back to Contents

go back to Feasts & Festivals