In yoga today our class was about Halloween, and The Day of the Dead and remembering…
Halloween wasn’t celebrated where we grew up.
When we emigrated, Halloween was one of the many new customs we had to learn about and quickly, so we dressed our children in costumes (all original and made by Mr F) handed out candy, and went trick-or-treating with our children on dark, cold streets.
But I didn’t know why.
I knew Halloween’s a time of celebration and superstition, but I didn’t know that its origins go back thousands of years, to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced sow-in).
The Celts celebrated New Year on November 1, but the night before, on October 31, people lit bonfires and wore costumes to ward off roaming ghosts, because they believed that on that night the ghosts of the dead returned to earth, with the bad spirits taking the form of animals, the most evil taking the form of cats.
When the Romans invaded Britain during the first century, they brought many of their festivals and customs with them, one of which was a festival for their goddess of fruits and gardens called Pomona Day, which fell around November 1st.
In 835 AD the Roman Catholic Church declared November 1st a holiday to honor saints, which they called All Saint’s Day, or Hallowmas, or All Hallows. All Souls Day a holiday to honor the dead, was celebrated on November 2 with big bonfires, parades, and people dressing up as saints, angels and devils.
Over the years the holidays combined and the names changed from All Hallow Even, to All Hallow’s Eve, to Hallowe’en, until now it’s simply Halloween, and has evolved into a secular, community-based event which includes Pomona Day’s harvest (apples), the Festival of Sanhain’s black cats, magic, evil spirits and death, the ghosts, skeletons and skulls from All Saint’s Day and All Soul’s Day, plus of course children going trick-or-treating…
Our yoga teacher’s family has a tradition of serving a “dumb plate” (or extra plate) at their Halloween dinner, which they give to the homeless or feed to the dog.
Why the dog?
Beka’s family carries on a tradition, through their Celtic roots, of including the goddess Hecate:
“In art and literature Hecate is accompanied by a dog, and associated with realms outside or beyond the world of the living.”
The Day of the Dead celebrations in Mexico on November 1st, have evolved from the same origins as Halloween, but with the added influence of the Aztecs who believed that the spirits of their deceased relatives would return as hummingbirds and butterflies.
Los Dias de los Muertos is not a sad time, but a time of to remember and rejoice. Each part of the country celebrates this holiday with slight variations.
Families arrange ofrenda’s or “altars” with flowers, bread, fruit, candy and pictures of deceased family members in their homes.
Dressed up as ghouls, ghosts, mummies and skeletons people parade through the town carrying open coffins with smiling “corpses”.
The next day armed with hoes, picks, shovels, flowers, candles, blankets, and picnic baskets they go to the cemetery to clean the graves of their loved ones, and to place flowers, bread, fruit and candles on them. Some bring guitars and spend the entire night in the cemeteries.