Summer has (finally) ended and we are slowly moving into shorter, colder, darker days. Sure, we still sometimes have days where we barely need a jacket, but all the signs are there. The leaves are falling, frost is on the windows in the morning, and the heat is on. During this transition, we have a cluster of family-centered holidays– Halloween, All Saints Day, and All Souls Day. Other traditions and cultures have similar holidays– Samhain, Day of the Dead. These are the three we choose to celebrate because they are part of our own cultural heritage.
For us, Halloween is a fun holiday. To be honest, we almost didn’t celebrate this year. I was frustrated because I kept buying candy on sale and it kept mysteriously disappearing. Chores weren’t getting done, homework wasn’t being completed, and I knew I had to work Halloween night, leaving my 17-year-old to manage trick-or-treating. It didn’t seem worth the time, effort, and money to get together the Disney-themed costumes the children had asked for.
I woke up on October 31 full of remorse and determined to make it happen. And you know what? I did! We had one thrift store costume– Princess Jasmine from Aladdin– and the rest were a perfectly imperfect combination of things in our costume box, thrifted items, and messily homemade. We had a Genie, Princess Jasmine, Minnie Mouse, Pooh Bear, and Stitch. And since I wanted to both dress up and be comfortable teaching, I wore a Disney-bounding inspired Princess Anna costume. Candy was set out and a good time was had by all.
Sometimes it is hard as a parent to get unstuck. I feel much as I imagine a toddler must feel inside– unrelenting, confused, tired, frustrated, angry, and like I can’t move forward. It takes a certain amount of humility to let go of pronouncements made in anger, and I think there is a fear that it somehow diminishes our authority as a parent. In my personal experience, however, the opposite is true. To go to your children and say “I was angry. I said this, but I feel it would hurt us as a family. The things that upset me are still there, and we will work on them, but I want to back down from thinking in terms of punishment and move forward with thinking in terms of family” shows a great deal of strength.
All Saints Day comes first, but we celebrated it last. We talked about heroes and people we look up to, and each child made a panel for a banner that will hang at our fireplace. I don’t have a picture yet, but I will say that Lin-Manuel Miranda is on there twice.
All Souls Day was a more somber affair. After the act of domestic terrorism that just took place at Tree of Life Synagogue here in Pittsburgh, acknowledging the dead felt extremely important. We talked about family members we had lost– grandparents and great-grandparents, some of whom the children never had a chance to meet. My father, who has been weighing heavily on my heart lately. Death has not yet touched my children too strongly, but they do miss their PeePaw. We looked through albums and found pictures. We cleared off the silly Halloween decorations, kept some harvest symbols, and put the photographs up on the mantle. We had two candles. On one, we wrote the names of those murdered a week ago here in Pittsburgh. On the other, we wrote the names of those in our families who died. We sang the verses from John McCutcheon’s song Thanksgiving Day as well as Shalom Chaverim by the glow of the candles.
Let us remember those gone before us-
The ones with brains and strength and might.
Showed us the way, laid it before us,
Turned the darkness into light.
Let us imagine those still in waiting-
The ones who look so open-eyed.
Those who’ll one day rise before us,
Strong and proud prepared to guide.
May the ways that we treat others
Be the measure of our worth.
May our memory be a blessing
On the future of this earth.
It was a heavy, solemn moment. We followed it by eating bread and pastries I had bought at the Mexican market and watching Coco. I feel like this was the perfect balance between reverence and age-appropriateness. The next day we baked soul cake shortbread, and today we begin the process of moving forward into the next week and the fullness of autumn.