Now it's time to look for saints

Friday, November 1, 2002

I can honestly say I never celebrated All Saints Day when I was growing up.

Like most youngsters, I liked Halloween, the evening before All Saints Day, not just for the candy "treats," but because of the "tricks" you were entitled to perform if you didn't get any "treats."

Remember soaped windows?

Remember overturned outhouses?

Remember toilet paper streaming from the limbs of some poor victim's tree?

Remember the cars that were carried by husky teenage boys full of hormones into places too tight to drive out of?

Remember when dressing for Halloween -- for boys, at least -- meant either rubbing a burnt cork all over your face or stretching a sheer stocking over your head until your facial features were distorted in ways that would gladden the heart of any serious bank robber?

Remember when the perfect Halloween costume consisted of worn-out clothes that were either too big or too little for your body -- and it didn't matter which?

I remember all of that -- although I will hastily add that I'm not confessing to anything. I'm not exactly clear on when the statute of limitations runs out on Halloween "tricks."

By comparison, today's Halloween is a tame affair. The biggest ruckus is over the permanent psychological damage caused by scary costumes.

To which I say: What's the point if you don't try to scare the bejeebers out your friends and people you don't even know?

Like most holidays, Halloween has its roots in ancient customs that predate their Christian adaptations. That doesn't make the modern religious observances any less meaningful. It just means pushing over a privy goes way, way back.

Here it is, the first day of November, which means Halloween is over -- done, fini, gone for another year.

Today is All Saints Day. The bad news is that there are no more "tricks" today. The good news is that it's another opportunity for celebration. The plain fact is that most folks either don't know how to celebrate All Saints Day or didn't know it was an option.

Do you get a tree, a pumpkin, a turkey, fireworks, gifts? Hide eggs? March in a parade? What?

For all the funny ways we humans have found for turning Holy Days into holidays, we haven't found a good way to party on All Saints Day.

Instead -- if we do anything at all -- we rely on church rites and customs dating back to the fourth century. For the most part, this means taking time to pray and to remember all the "saints" of the church. It's up to you, depending on your particular religious background, to decide what a "saint" is.

What do I think a "saint" is? For one thing, I think there are saints all around, some living and some not of this world. I think there are saints who have managed to be good when it would have been easier -- perhaps less life-threatening -- to be bad. I think there are saints who are empowered by the Almighty to perform miracles, seen and unseen, real and unrealized, great and small.

How often have you said about someone you know: "He's a saint."

Or you stand around at a funeral home during a visitation and say of the deceased: "She was such a saint."

There you go. This means you must know some saints personally. Which is good, because if you didn't, you'd be living a pretty miserable existence.

Maybe you're a saint. Or maybe you just think you are. Either way, it's better to be headed in a saintly direction, don't you think?

It's a shame All Saints Day never caught on like Christmas. Most of us put more thought into Casual Day at the office than we do most religious holidays.

You can change that. Look around. Look for some saints.

And remember: Tomorrow is All Souls Day. Ready to celebrate?

R. Joe Sullivan is the editor of the Southeast Missourian.

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