The primary assembly takes a lighthearted look at the tradition of Halloween, with a reference to the Halloween scene in ‘Meet me in St Louis’, and also explains the meaning of All Saints Day
The three days from 31st October to 2nd November each traditionally mark, in a different way, our awareness of mortality. 31st October is Halloween – ‘All Hallows Eve’ which, traditionally, comes from a pre-Christian tradition of scaring off evil spirits and welcoming good ones. All Saints Day celebrates all saints and martyrs, known and unknown. All Souls Day is mainly recognised by Catholics and is a day of prayer for dead souls who have not yet passed into heaven.
Halloween’s coming. Maybe you’ll do something exciting that evening. All Saints Day is coming too, and maybe you’ll go to church on that day.
What are these three days about? Halloween comes from an old belief that we need to frighten off evil spirits, so we dress up in frightening ways, and carry lanterns. All Saints Day is a good day, because we use it to say thank you for all those good people who aren’t famous and don’t have special days of their own.
So what’s the one thing that each of these days has in common? Yes; each one is about coming to the end of life on earth. That’s something people think about a lot as they grow older, as we’ll hear in this story.
Lydia was sitting with her friend Jack, on a bench outside the library.
‘Jack,’ she said. ‘What are you doing for Halloween?’
Jack laughed. ‘I’m too old for all that. Young people do Halloween. Not senior citizens like me.’
‘So how old are you then?’ asked Lydia.
‘You’re not supposed to ask a gentleman how old he is,’ said Jack. ‘It’s not polite.’
‘OK, sorry,’ said Lydia, ‘But how old are you all the same?’
‘I’m seventy two,’ said Jack.
‘Wow!’ said Lydia. ‘I’m only ten.’
‘Yes,’ said Jack. ‘You’re at the beginning of your life and me, well….’ He stopped.
‘You’re nearly at the end of yours? Is that what you were going to say?’
‘Well,’ said Jack. ‘Maybe.’
‘Is that why you don’t do Halloween stuff?’ said Lydia. ‘Is it because it’s about skeletons and that?’
Jack laughed and shook his head.
‘Well, now that’s a thought. But no. It’s just that I don’t remember much about Halloween when I was young. We were probably more focused on bonfire night. Quite a lot of what our Halloween traditions today come from America. The first real Halloween I saw was in a film called ‘Meet me in St Louis’.’
‘What’s that, Jack?’ said Lydia.
‘Oh, it’s a great film. A musical, made in 1944. It’s set in St Louis, in America in 1904. I must have seen it soon after it came out. It has this scary Halloween scene in it.’
‘What’s scary about it?’
‘Well, let me see. There’s this little girl, nicknamed Tootie. She’s the youngest of four – a bit younger than you — and she goes out trick or treating with some other children. They play around in the dark, and carry bags of flour to throw at people. For a dare she knocks on a grumpy neighbour’s door and throws flour at him. She gets into trouble. And there’s a bit of romance.’
‘Oh yes, what’s that then?’ said Lydia.
‘Well, Tootie’s oldest sister Esther is in love with a boy called John, who lives next door. When Tootie gets into trouble, John’s there. He protects Tootie from the police, but because Tootie’s hurt herself in the running around, she tries to keep out of trouble by telling the family that John hurt her. And, well, you can guess what Esther thinks.’
‘She’s mad with John and falls out with him?’
‘That’s it,’ said Jack. ‘But you can also guess how it all ends.’
‘It all ends happily I bet,’ said Lydia. ‘And John and Esther have a lovely wedding?’
‘Exactly,’ said Jack. ‘So that’s a Halloween memory for me. Just a bit of silliness, and a happy ending. And that’s how it should be I think. Good fun, a bit silly, and a happy ending. But anyway, I prefer All Saints Day.’
‘When’s that?’ asked Lydia.
‘The day after Halloween,’ said Jack.
‘And what’s that for?’ said Lydia.
‘It’s for all saints, like it says on the tin.’
‘And who are they?’
‘Anyone who God knows has done good things in their life, even if not many people know about it, and they’re not famous.’
‘That’s a good idea,’ said Lydia. ‘So somebody who, well, let me think. Somebody who rescued somebody else from drowning maybe?’
‘Perhaps,’ said Jack. ‘But more likely somebody who had spent their life helping others – working to get a better deal for disabled people, or something like that. They might be someone to think about on All Saints Day. That’s the kind of people I think about anyway.’
‘Not skeletons then?’ said Lydia, laughing.
‘No. The skeletons and ghosts and things come from ancient beliefs about evil spirits.’
‘Are there evil spirits?’ said Lydia.
‘There are bad thoughts, bad deeds, and bad ideas,’ said Jack. ‘That’s what I think anyway. And it’s good to scare them away out of your mind. But I like All Saints day, because it’s a day for thinking good thoughts about good people and good ideas.’
Long ago, maybe people took Halloween seriously, and really were scared of evil spirits. Now, though, we’ve mostly got rid of all that, and instead the day turns into a collection of fun things to do, with pumpkins and lanterns and scary costumes. And then the next day, we have the opportunity to think about good people who’ve done good things. And that’s a nice combination, don’t you think?
We thank, you, Lord, for all your saints – people who have given their lives in your service, and in the service of other people. When we’ve had fun at Halloween, help us to remember them.
After the darkness comes the light. Halloween becomes All Saints.
This e-bulletin issue was first published in October 2009
About the author: Gerald Haigh