This is the time of year when people inevitably ask me what I’m doing for Halloween and expect that I’m going to have a very interesting answer.
They assume I’ll be organizing a séance or checking out the nearest haunted house, but they’re usually disappointed when they hear my plans.
Halloween is not a holiday I feel much of a connection with. While I do speak to dead people, there’s nothing haunted or spooky about my work. Nearly all the time, the spirits I connect with are focused on sending messages of love and comfort to the people they left behind– and there’s nothing frightening about that. On Halloween, the scariest thing I have to deal with is when I don’t get enough trick-or-treaters and I’m left alone at the end of the night with a big bowl of fun-sized Snickers bars.
When I was young, I’d dress up like all the other kids and we’d run the streets of Bayside knocking on doors and seeing how much candy we could collect. When I was a little older, I moved to California, and while I went to some great Halloween parties there, I also became more aware of another holiday – The Day of the Dead.
I feel a much stronger connection to that one.
Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is a Mexican tradition and is celebrated from October 31 to November 2. It’s similar to All Saints Day, where saints in heaven are honored on November 1st, and All Souls Day on November 2nd. All Souls Day is a day that Roman Catholics observe to remember dead loved ones – especially those in purgatory. I grew up Catholic, and remember going to mass during all Souls Day, but it never resonated with me in the same way as the Day of the Dead.
While Halloween plays on our fear of ghosts and the prospect of death, and All Souls Day has the shadow of souls stuck in purgatory, the Day of the Dead is a celebration of life, designed to honor and remember loved ones who have passed over.
Instead of dark ghoulish decorations and leering pumpkins, celebrations for the Day of the Dead include bright yellow and orange flowers, sugar skulls, and colorful plaster skeletons dressed for weddings and celebrations. The living celebrate these days when they “reunite with the dead” with music, dancing, processions and of course, delicious food. There’s something so beautiful and natural about the way the Mexican people honor their dead. To me it acknowledges the fact that the veil between life and the afterlife is a thin one, and the dead are never far from us.
If you don’t celebrate the Catholic holidays or the Days of the Dead, the days following Halloween can still provide a wonderful opportunity to feel closer to loved ones on the other side. Consider doing something special to honor them, maybe setting up a simple altar in your home with candles and photographs, sharing memories of them, or going to church and lighting a candle. During this time, I recommend you don’t dwell on how they died or how much you miss them. Instead share stories that make you laugh or remember how they made you feel special. Set a place at the table for them and make their favorite meal. Most important, feel their presence around you and be thankful for the time you spent together.
While I don’t have any special plans for Halloween this year, I do look forward to helping my friends and students feel closer to their loved ones in Heaven, and honor their dead, not with sadness and fear – but with joy!