October 30 Nugget – Having a Happy “Boo-thday”!

October 30 Nugget – Having A Happy “Boo-thday”!

Rev. Aaron Payson

Tomorrow we celebrate “All Hallows Eve” or Halloween, a contemporary holiday that reflects the ancient Celtic celebration of Samhain. As one online resource notes,

The Samhain festival consisted of the slaughtering of animals for winter, rituals involving bonfires that were said to have cleansing and protective powers, and more. During Samhain, it was believed that fairies or spirits could more easily enter our world. Many of these spirits were thought to be remnants of nature spirits and pagan gods. Food and drink were offered to the spirits during Samhain and it was thought that the souls of the dead revisited their homes during this time. In current times, many Wiccans and Celtic neopagans observe Samhain as a religious holiday.

As fate would have it, this annual rite of fall is also my birthday. As a child, I was startled to realize that the festivity on the even of the celebration of my birth was not created for me. And yet, the merging of this ancient tradition and my arrival on the planet played an important part in developing a sense of who I am. That people played in costume and received treats from both friends and strangers, was a fantastic expression of the joy of being alive and the gratitude I continue to feel for those whose lives have and do mean so much to me.

The confluence of these festivities has religious implications as well. All Hallows Eve, which honors the human desire for survival through the expected challenges of winter and the longing for the timeless bonds of kinship that bind us to generations past and future, bonds that speak of legacies that continue to live through us and that of us that will live on in others, is in many ways the foundation of most religious sensibilities: survival, longing for connection to something larger then ourselves and our own potential for immortality.

Birthdays, on the other hand, bind us by calendar and clock to this life, as a celebration of our coming into being in the here and now. This celebration didn’t start out that way, at least, not for all of us. Egyptologists tell us that the first recorded birthday occurred about 3000 years ago and was associated not with the experience of physical birth, but with the spiritual birth, as a god, of the newly coronated Pharaoh.  Not until the advent of Roman civilization did it become common to celebrate the birth dates of non-religious figures (and then it was only for males – women’s birthdays were not commonly celebrated until the 12th century).

Furthermore, early Christianity took exception to the celebration of birthdays. Owing to the belief in original sin, birthdays were considered pagan and evil. That is, until the 4th century when Christians began to celebrate the birth of Jesus, we assume initially as a way of subsuming the Roman holiday of Saturnalia.

For me, then, this time of year is the nexus of the human desire for connection that transcends this life and a celebration of all that is this life, in one fell swoop. It is a time of revelry and joy as well, contemplation and thanksgiving, longing and love. A way to mark time and to honor all those whose timeless presence reside as part of our being and becoming. Or as our Universalist forebear, Max Coots reminds us:

“When love is felt or fear is known;
when holidays and holy days and such times come;
when anniversaries arrive by calendar or consciousness;
when seasons come – as seasons do – old and known, but somehow new;
when lives are born or people die;
when something sacred is sensed in soil or sky; mark the time.
Respond with thought or prayer or smile or grief.
Let nothing living slip between the fingers of your mind,
for all of these are holy things we will not, cannot, find again.”