By Ewa Rajtar
My mother emigrated from Poland to America in the late 1980’s. To this day, she recalls Halloween as being one of the greatest culture shocks of her life. She would often tell me that American Halloween is empty of true meaning, that it’s hollow rather than hallow. She couldn’t wrap her mind around the idea of children running around yards filled with plastic bones, cardboard tombstones, carved pumpkins, and faux cobwebs trying to fill their pillowcases or plastic jack-o-lanterns to the rim with candy from strangers; amassing as much candy as possible has become the focal point of the holiday.
According to one source, Americans distribute approximately 600 million pounds of candy every single year on October the 31st. To put that into perspective, the source sites the Titanic as weighing 100 million pounds, thus the amount of candy distributed is the equivalency of six Titanic ships! It’s no surprise to hear that the tradition of handing out massive amounts of sweets was an idea pitched by candy companies to try and boost their sales in the 1950’s. It’s safe to say, the ploy worked. However, this day was once celebrated as an ancient community event with bonfires, food, drink, and festivities. I believe that Halloween in America can be reclaimed with applied and intentional mindfulness, but first, let me give you a glimpse into how another culture celebrates this time of year.
Being raised in two very different cultures in America was extremely taxing on me as a kid. I never felt like I was American nor that I was Polish - I was somewhere with one foot in both worlds. Around this time of year, the anxiety surrounding the uncertainty of my identity only intensified. On one hand, I experienced Halloween to be an exciting community event as a child. My dad would shuffle my brother and I from one neighbor to the next so as to show off the costumes he made for us; we often received spoils from these neighbors such as homemade goods or extra heaps and handfuls of candy. Once we came home, however, mom would turn on the television to Polish tv (we had a special satellite for that), stripped us of our costumes, and presented us with a very different idea of how one should celebrate the following two days - All Saint’s Day and All Soul’s Day.
In Poland, this time of year is a time to not only reflect inwards but to connect outwards from one’s heart center to that of their family’s and friends’, both living and dead alike. All Saint’s Day and All Soul’s Day are major holidays where thousands of families and individuals gather to meticulously clean the gravesites of their deceased loved ones and adorn each tomb with wreaths, flowers, and candles.
Polaks flood these hallow grounds at nightime. Sometimes a mass may be held, but really this time is for families to visit the final resting place of loved ones and commune with their dearly departed. It’s not unusual to find Polaks sharing in a drink of vodka, both with the living as well as the dead. Homemade crossed buns or other foods may be left out for the dead to consume as well. This is a time of honoring, of dropping into gratitude, and sharing in loving community. As one famous Polish karaoke song goes, “Bo wszyscy Polacy to jedna rodzina,” which translates to “All Polaks are one family.” Gravesites that don’t receive family visitors are cleaned and decorated by the community. Everyone is honored and acknowledged during this sacred time - everyone is family.
Many cultures around the world celebrate their dead in similar fashions. Altars are erected and flooded with photos of the dead, candles, flowers, food, and drink so as to make spirits’ yearly visit during the thinning of the veil one that satiates them until the next. Some people hold seances, some may smudge their living space, some may watch scary movies with their family, and some value a simple and longstanding tradition of carving pumpkins with their family. Each of these traditions has it’s place, but I challenge you all to drop into it the experience of this deeply energetic and magical time by working in some mindfulness.
As you prepare to celebrate Halloween this year, take a moment to slow down, to feel your feet on the ground, to feel the electric energy of the season upon your skin. If you’re carving pumpkins with your family, allow yourself to experience the slimy and seedy insides of the pumpkin, allow yourself to smell the aliveness, allow yourself to focus in on your family’s chatter. Allow yourself to breath it all in. Open yourself up to feel deep appreciation course through you. Feel the immense gratitude for this very experience and the thousands of people that came before you that made this moment possible. They are all standing behind you, supporting you, guiding you, and loving you from beyond the veil. In whatever way you choose, honor your ancestors and give them a moment of loving thanks.
Share in the comments section how you and your ancestors have celebrated
this magical time of the year!