All Halloween! Saint Time!

Besides showing off Pikes Peak, the city of Manitou Springs, Colorado, has some quirky attractions to draw in tourists. One is the Emma Crawford coffin race/festival, which includes a Halloween parade. For the race, about 50 teams–four pallbearers each–push coffins on wheels that carry ghostly Emmas.

Halloween in Manitou Springs, four bloody nurses push a coffin with Emma inside
2014 Emma Watson Coffin Racers (courtesy of manitousprings.org

The real Emma Crawford, a spiritualist, died in 1891 in Manitou Springs, while unsuccessfully seeking a cure for tuberculosis. Her heartbroken fiancé kept a promise and buried Emma atop Red Mountain. Unfortunately in 1912, the railroad decided to build an incline to the mountain top.

head shot of Emma Crawford, photo from the Pikes Peak Library District
Emma Crawford–photo from the Pikes Peak Library District and used with permission.

Emma’s remains were reburied on the slope. No RIP for her, however. Harsh weather conditions and rain resulted in Emma’s remains tumbling into a canyon. Two boys found her name plate, the casket’s silver handles and bones. The city reburied the remains in a local cemetery. Some people say her ghost haunts Red Mountain.

Coffin races got me thinking about Halloween, which derives from Allhallowtide (1471) and means Saint or Holy Time. I rummaged the internet and discovered the Christian tradition to remember the dead has lots of cultural tentacles. Please don’t get stickier than a caramel apple if I’m off on details, but here is some “Triduum” trivia.

All Saints Day on Sunday, Nov. 1, in the Roman Catholic calendar, honors those saints who are in heaven. According to Catholic Education.Org, “It was formally started by Pope Boniface IV, who consecrated the Parthenon at Rome to the Virgin Mary and all the Martyrs on May 13 in 609 AD. Boniface IV also established All Souls’ Day, which followed All Saints. The choice of the day may have been intended to co-opt the pagan holiday “Feast of the Lamures,” a day which pagans used to placate the restless spirits of the dead. The holy day was eventually established on November 1 by Pope Gregory III in the mid-eighth century as a day dedicated to the saints and their relics.” The May 13 celebration faded.

All Souls Day, Nov. 2, is about the average dead soul. The Roman Catholic Church’s teaching on purgatory (a waiting place for the heaven-bound to become fully purified) allowed the living to help their dead through prayer. St. Odilo, the Abbot of Cluny (d. 1048), decreed that on Nov. 2 all his monasteries should offer special prayers for souls in Purgatory and the Office of the Dead should be sung. The Benedictines and Carthusians adopted that same devotion, and soon Nov. 2 became the Feast of All Souls for the entire Roman Catholic Church.

Now back to October 31, Halloween, the church’s starting point for All Hallows Time. What are the origins for dressing up in scary costumes and trick or treating?

Halloween's lit and carved Raccoon atop Jack'O'Lantern
Rac and Jack by LGB

In many European countries, like in Mexico with its Aztec- rooted Dia de los Muertos on Nov. 2 , pagan elements intermixed with the Christian recognition of the dead. A common belief was that the spirits of the departed were briefly allowed on earth to seek justice or revenge. Pre-Christian Celts called this holiday “Samhain.” Masks, costumes and bonfires were used to keep evil spirits at bay.

turnip Jack 'O Lantern
Don’t you think orange is more fashionable then turnip purple and grey?

Ireland developed a story for Hallows Eve about clever, despicable Jack. This man was so crafty he even tricked Satan into a deal that kept his soul out of hell. When nasty Jack died, St. Peter refused him entrance into heaven. The devil threw a piece of fire at the trickster, which he placed in a hollowed out turnip to light his way in the darkness. Soon, Ireland had lots of carved turnips. After the Irish came to the U.S. during the Potato Famine, they found pumpkins more suited for “Jack ‘O Lanterns.”

Our trick or treat custom may have come from the English and Irish, whose children would go “souling” or “guising” from house to house, collecting food for the All Saints Feast or to receive soul cakes by promising to pray for departed loved ones.

At Halloween, its 'll about the candy.
It’s all about the candy. (photo by CSB)

In the U.S., Halloween has been recognized sporadically for over a century with postcards and costume parties. The children’s trick or treat custom found momentum after World War II, when a nation fed up with rationing sugar was wide open to handing out sugary treats to kids.

Yes, it's all about the candy.
Yes, it’s all about the candy. (photo by CSB)

Here’s my opinion on All Hallow’s Tide. Because we are made in God’s image, I dislike the deformed disguises desecrating the human body. If we were facing an ebola crisis or another 911, I doubt Halloween would be celebrated this way. Most of us like to be frightened within a safety margin.

Suspended ghosts and vampires fly above a ranch-style home.
Suspended vampires “fly” above a ranch-style home.

Pretending that death has a festive macabre side seems to suspend the truth of extinction. Fortunately, the Light of the World shines in the darkness and can illuminate the most ravaged souls.

How do I feel about All Saints Day? Honestly, I’m shedding tears with those who weep. This Sunday I will pray for: 1) the families of the Coptic Egyptians beheaded by ISIS in February; 2) the Assyrian Christians,

Pastor Saeed Abedini (photo in public domain)
Pastor Saeed Abedini (photo in public domain)

who currently are being slaughtered; 3) the Syrian Christian refugees who cannot even get a sliver of the USA’s increased refugee quotas;  4) the thousands of believers in Nigeria, whose churches and other properties were destroyed this year; and 5) one Iranian American believer, Saeed Abedini, seemingly abandoned by our government, as he continues to be tortured in an Iranian prison. This sounds quite gloomy, but I know who has the final word and that gives me hope for all the saints, living and dead.

P.S. Reformation Day (October 31) commemorates Martin Luther’s posting of his 95 Theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany, October 31, 1517. Now if you’ve read this far you definitely deserve some candy.

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My sources included Wikipedia, http://www.catholiceducation.org; http://www.history.com/topics/halloween/history-of-trick-or-treating; and World magazine’s article “A sign and a witness,”  by Mindy Belz, October 31, 2015.