This article was originally published in the San Marino Tribune on October 28th, 2016.
Last June, on parish pilgrimage in England, we heard a lot of chatter about “The Big Dig” going on underneath London. As metropolitan London expands upward and outward, new footings have to be dug for sky-scrapers, and fresh holes bored for an increasingly connected transportation system. London’s “Tube” is the oldest subway in the world, and its expansion has made it the most interesting, as archaeological discoveries regularly halt construction. Scholars are puzzling over insights into the evolution of the capital from the Mesolithic period 11,000 years ago right through the 19th Century. 3,300 skeletons from the Black Death (which eventually claimed a third of London’s population) turned up under Liverpool Station alone. Roman IOU’s were inauspiciously found beneath the new headquarters for London’s Bloomsberg!
The Autumn Triduum of All Hallows’ Eve, the Feast of All Saints’ and All Souls’ Day (October 31st, November 1st and November 2nd) found legs in the British Isles. In olden days the Celts donned costumes, lit enormous bonfires, and hosted parades to rout evil spirits during the feast of Samhaim; so the Church re-christened the event as a series of Christian holy days, adding to our veneration of the saints.
Most of us worry less about evil spirits now than once, and All Hallow’s Eve is just ‘Halloween’ in current parlance…a wonderful opportunity for our children to vest in wacky costumes and dare the world with ‘Trick or Treat.’ Adults celebrate too. Six billion dollars are spent annually on Halloween, making it the second largest commercial holiday in America.
We might do well to reflect also on the rest of the Autumn Triduum. All our lives, our religious traditions, political practices, codes of ethics and cherished values are, no less than London, built on the bones of those who have come before. Nobel Prize Winner Czeslaw Milosz said our age was characterized by “a refusal to remember,” and Bill Moyers worries that we’ve become a nation of “agitated amnesiacs, who seem to know everything about the last twenty-four hours, but little of the last sixty centuries, or even the last sixty years” (Amusing Ourselves To Death, Viking-Penguin). All Hallows’, All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day offer a corrective, reminding us that every individual, each generation, and all civilization is built upon what has come before, and that what has come before is of enormous importance, meriting reflection and reverence.
In the vibrant blending of cultures which it is our privilege to enjoy in the Los Angeles metropolitan area, it is hard not to be impressed with Mexican celebrations of ‘Dia De Los Muertos’ featuring altars brightly decorated with marigolds, catrinas, sugar skulls and papel-picado. We build an Altar each year in the entrance Narthex of St. Edmund’s in celebration of the fusion of which we are a part, gaudy and over-stacked with photos of loved ones passed into larger life as they continue to instruct us in the living of our days.
As the tribes gather in Southern California, building an emerging culture rooted in the rich traditions of American soil, it is right to bind ourselves to loved ones gone before, and to state and re-state, affirm and confess, the guiding creeds that have led us to be who we are, for in this way we will shape who we might best become. Rome wasn’t built in a day, nor London, nor L.A. We are less autonomous than we imagine, and none of us are self-made. In the lengthening shadows leaning toward winter, the Autumn Triduum offers helpful perspective.