An article written for Christianity.com by Mary Rathbone during the Season of Remembrance 2022
What is the Season of Remembrance?
The mellow autumnal tones and subtle shifting mists are a perfect backdrop for the season of remembrance.
I believe it is important to remember those who travelled on the earth before us and mark their lives and contributions. Because with time, we can look back on ancient and recent history and see patterns of thought, behaviour and tradition which can be enlightening in the modern world.
There are four commemoration festivals/observations spanning 2000+ years that I would like to bring to your attention and then offer my humble reflections on what this means for us today.
Halloween October 31st
As a child in 1960s London, I cannot recall ever hearing about Halloween, let alone celebrating it. November 5th, known as Guy Fawkes (or Bonfire) Night, was the big thing then with large bonfires and fireworks celebrating a failed assassination attempt on King James I by a person called Guy Fawkes on November 5th 1605.
However, Halloween has gradually been celebrated in a secular manner more and more over recent years in England since. If we are to believe what we see in American films, though, it is on a much smaller scale than in the USA.
Halloween has a fascinating history. It developed around 400 years ago from an ancient Celtic pagan festival called Samhain, which was a celebration of the harvest. It also marked the end of summer and the beginning of winter. The new year started at this point.
The Celts believed the souls of the dead wandered about on earth at this time of the year, so they dressed in costumes to disguise themselves and lit huge fires on the top of the hills to ward off ghosts and evil spirits as they celebrated the harvest.
After the Romans conquered the British Isles in the 1st century CE, they introduced their Festival of Feralia to commemorate the dead, and the Festival of Pomona marked the goddess of the harvest, both these festivals ran alongside Samhain.
All Saints Day November 1st and All Souls Day November 2nd
All Saints Day, also known as All Hallows Day, was introduced in 609CE by Pope Boniface as a time to honour the saints and martyrs. It is still celebrated on November 1st by the Roman Catholic Church, the Anglican Community and other Protestant churches. Other denominations also celebrate All Saints Day, but on various different dates.
Then, All Souls Day was introduced in the year 1000CE to commemorate the Faithful Departed.
All Saints Day and All Souls Day emerged from the belief in a powerful spiritual bond between deceased Christians in heaven and those alive on the earth today, known as the Church Triumphant (CT) and the Church Militant (CM).
The CT is the saints, martyrs, and faithful departed who are now in heaven and resting in peace, whilst the CM is the body of living Christians actively proclaiming the gospel in the world today.
Some scholars propose that the European church began celebrating All Saints and All Souls Day at the beginning of November to replace or coincide with the pagan festival of Samhain and include a Christian observance.
By doing this, the evening before All Saints’ Day became a holy, or hallowed, eve, a vigil for All Saints Day and the Halloween we celebrate today. So, by the end of the Middle Ages, secular and sacred days had been thoroughly merged.
The celebration of Halloween eventually made its way to America and Canada in the 19th century, particularly alongside Irish and Scottish immigrants who were escaping the potato famine in their homelands.
November 11th Remembrance Sunday (England)
This day honours those who died in war and military conflict since World War 1. Traditionally a two-minute silence is observed throughout the country at the 11th hour on November 11th, and church services and ceremonial gatherings take place throughout the day.
Remembrance Sunday originates from Armistice Day, introduced on November 11th 1919, to commemorate the anniversary of one year since the peace agreement that ended WW1.
After the Second World War, Armistice Day was replaced by Remembrance Sunday to honour and commemorate all those who gave their lives in the two world wars.
Today, most if not all, English parishes have a Garden of Remembrance or at least a Cenotaph where local people gather on Remembrance Sunday. We are fortunate to have a good-sized Garden of Remembrance with a central Cenotaph in my parish. Our Service of Remembrance is usually led by our Rector (although the Bishop has been known to lead also). Other local clerical people also attend, and our choir lead the hymns. There are also many local dignitaries in attendance, as well as; Cubs, Scouts, Girl Guides, The British Legion, Police, Ambulance, Fire personnel, as well as Military, currently serving or retired. All may lay wreathes at the central Cenotaph, and police stop traffic on the busy road that runs by the garden during the two-minute silence at 11am.
An estimated 500 people generally attend our service of remembrance, and we notice a year-on-year increase in the number of members of the public attending to pay their respects.
The United Nations
The fear of famine is still prevalent in the world today, but also, is the fear of war. Such is the fear of war in modern times that the United Nations (UN) was formed after the second World War to maintain international peace and security.
The UN has a wall outside its New York head office, known as the Isaiah Wall because it is engraved with an inscription taken from the Book of Isaiah describing a vision the prophet had of everlasting peace in God’s Kingdom, in which he says:
They will beat their swords into plowshares
and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation,
nor will they train for war anymore. Isaiah 2:4
The four commemorative events described above mark how humanity has attempted to understand and honour the process of life and death and the associated fears of famine, war and death over the last 2700 years.
The prophet Isaiah foretold of a time when people would willingly give up their weapons of war and allow the Prince of Peace to reign in their hearts. He was speaking of the coming of the Messiah, Jesus. It is wonderful that his vision of hope and peace should inspire peacemakers today.
Down the generations, from the fear of famine and death of the Celts, to two world wars, and ongoing smaller wars and famine, humankind is still plagued by the fear of war, famine and death.
Today, we are fortunate that the peace Jesus offers is widely spoken of; in local chapels, churches, and cathedrals, in books and magazines, on radio and TV, and, of course, online in forums such as Christianity.com.
In these places, we can begin to understand that when we surrender our will to Jesus, we are able to leave our troubles behind us. Some describe this process as leaving our concerns at the foot of the cross.
Because before he died, Jesus knew that he did not have long left on earth and wanted to offer his disciples words of comfort.
So, he told them; Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. John 14:27
Today, fear is as prevalent in the world as it has ever been, but the peace Jesus offered his disciples is timeless and still there for those who love him today, tomorrow, and for all eternity.