“Birthdays not only remind us of our past; they are steps along the road of life to the future”(1).
Celebrate your birth!
Two of my favorite October holidays are my birthday (yes, I know it's not an official holiday) and Halloween. Even at my age, I enjoy birthday cake, presents, and the happy attention given to me by family and friends. I feel sad when people tell me they no longer celebrate their birthdays or say birthdays are not important.
I might have felt differently in Medieval times, since it seems as if birthdays were not as relevant as deaths (2). Medieval people were more prone to honor the anniversary of someone’s end than the anniversary of his/her beginning (3).
I'm just here for the boos!
This talk of death brings me to my other favorite October festivity – Halloween. Trees are shedding their leaves, and the world begins to enter a deep sleep. It’s not quite winter, but the days grow shorter and the nights loom darker. Ancient people celebrated with harvest festivals, bonfires, and donned "costumes to ward off ghosts" (4). Halloween was not an actual word people used during that period. When Christianity appeared, the festivals were replaced with an honoring of dead holy people - saints. The actual feast day was November 1, with the night before called All Hallows Eve. There were many traditions, but one seems to reflect some of our present day Halloween celebrations:
“All Saints Day, 1 November, marked the commencement of winter for many people…young people (especially boys) began to go about dressed up, singing songs, and asking for money or food" (5).
My favorite memories of Halloween are actually as an adult. My one sister and her family would drive to our town. After a mad scramble to get the children's costumes on, we'd walk with the smallest kiddos crunching fallen leaves and passing through the throngs of other trick-o-treaters. One Halloween, my niece had broken her foot. Her mother pulled her along in a wagon. That's determination. With sagging, candy-filled pillow cases, we'd head back home. As the children grew older, they participated in the Halloween parade that fed into a haunted house. The adults waited at home for their "safe" return. After a supper of lasagna or pizza, the kids exchanged candy. Satisfied with their loot, we drove through the cemetery terrified a ghoul would jump out. "Boo!"
All Saints Day is less hectic but more important as we honor the holy men and women who died before us. It's a great tradition because having role models in our faith can help us on our life's journey. True, we are a bit hung over from candy and pizza, but the celebration points us to a greater reality outside of harvest festivals and parties.
I'm grateful for these traditions passed down through the generations.
Speaking of grateful, next month is Thanksgiving for people living in the United States. Other countries celebrate Thanksgiving, but not necessarily in November. Did Medieval people celebrate some type of Thanksgiving? Maybe we'll explore that topic.
Thank you for spending some time with me.
Thank you, Joan Hay, for your great Zeynip rendition!
(1) Orme, Nicholas. 2001. Medieval Children. New Haven: Yale University Press, pp. 46.
(3)Brittain, C., 2019. Birthdays In The Middle Ages. [online] Life in the Middle Ages. Available at: <http://cdalebrittain.blogspot.com/2019/05/birthdays-in-middle-ages.html> [Accessed 14 October 2020].
(4) History.com. 2020. Halloween 2020. [online] Available at: <https://www.history.com/topics/halloween/history-of-halloween> [Accessed 14 October 2020].
(5) Orme, Nicholas. 2001. Medieval Children. New Haven: Yale University Press, pp. 187.