This article is from Issue 54: Nov/Dec 2011

Unwrapping the Holidays

Here are the stories behind all of this season's celebrations—not just the ones you know.

The end of another year is upon us, which means it’s time to party. While the rest of the year only has a few holidays to choose from, fall and winter present a plethora of festive party options. But if you’ve spent your life thinking November and December were only about Thanksgiving and Christmas, you’ve been wasting a lot of celebration opportunities. The next few weeks are rich with observances, festivals, holidays and holy days. So strap on your party hats and let’s survey the various festivities.

ALL SAINTS' DAY/ALL SOULS' DAY

NOVEMBER 1-2, 2011
“Halloween” is an abbreviated form of “All Hallows’ Eve,” which refers to the actual name of this festival, known in ye olden tymes as All Hallows or Hallowmas. The tradition dates back to the third century, when the Church used it to honor martyrs and saints. Despite this history, the reputation of these days got trashed in recent generations due to its connection to spooky, pagan Halloween. Thanks for that, Satanists and/or John Carpenter. But many churches around the world still observe these days as a way to remember faithful believers who have died, as well as those serving today.

FUN FACT: In some predominantly Catholic countries, All Saints’ Day is a national holiday and a big deal. For instance, in Mexico, it coincides with Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), which probably ties back to the unpronounceable Aztec death deity Mictecacihuatl and involves a lot of skull imagery. If you’ve been waiting for the perfect opportunity to mash up your love of Jesus and skeletons, this is your day.

CHRIST THE KING SUNDAY

NOVEMBER 20, 2011
This is the last Sunday of the liturgical church year—the ancient “calendar” the Church has used to educate congregants about the life of Christ and the essentials of the faith. Centuries ago, most non-clergy were illiterate, so the readings and observances of the calendar provided an organized, large-scale form of discipleship for most Christians. In today’s liturgical churches, this Sunday serves as the culmination of the teachings about Jesus over the preceding year. Churches use this day to reflect on Christ’s life and celebrate His coming Kingdom.