Halloween and Day of the Dead and remembering…

In yoga today our class was about Halloween, and The Day of the Dead and remembering

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Halloween in Canada. 1928

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.

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The Netherlands. 2004.

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…

[for more on the topic ]

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Hecate with dog

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.”

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The Triple Hecate, 1795 William Blake

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.

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Day of the Dead celebrant, Hollywood Forever Cemetery, Los Angeles

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”.

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Alfeniques are sugar candy that allude to the day of the dead celebrations in Mexico. Photo credit Tomascastelazo

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.

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Day of the Dead celebrations at the cemetery of San Antonio Tecómitl, Mexico City. Photo by Eneas de Troya

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About dearrosie

We think we need so much, when all we really need is time to breathe. Come walk with me, put one foot in front of the other, and get to know yourself. Please click the link to my blog - below - and leave me a comment. I love visitors.
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16 Responses to Halloween and Day of the Dead and remembering…

  1. theonlycin says:

    Very informative, Rosie, a lot I didn’t know, thanks 🙂

  2. magsx2 says:

    Hi,
    A lot of great information, The Day of the Dead in Mexico, I find very interesting, I never heard about this before, it is a good way I feel to remember love ones.

    • dearrosie says:

      Hi Mags,
      I don’t know why the Day of the Dead isn’t well known out of Mexico, so I’m glad to spread the word. To be honest I only know about it because there’s a large Mexican population in LA who brought the custom here.

      It’s a beautiful way to remember one’s loved ones, while also maintaining the upkeep of the cemeteries

  3. souldipper says:

    I suspect you know a lot more about Halloween than a lot of naturally born Americans! A bunch of us went out for dinner and watched fireworks from our table. Good company and simple fun!

    • dearrosie says:

      Hi Amy,
      What fun to have fireworks for Halloween. Your small island provides lots of entertainments I wouldn’t have expected.
      Most folks don’t stop to think why they dress up and go trick-or-treating. They just do it.

  4. Priya says:

    This is just what I needed! All of the information at one place. Thank you!
    The Day of the Dead is such a nice way to show appreciation for the souls gone. Sadness isn’t the only way to do that, no?

    I quite enjoy the thought of trick or treat, but don’t really know what happens if it is “trick”. What kind of tricks are played? It must be such fun!

    • dearrosie says:

      Hello Priya,
      I’m delighted that I could provide a one stop explanation of Halloween.

      To only remember our dearly departed with sadness negates all the happiness and joy in their lives, no?

      I don’t know anyone who plays tricks on the kids, so I can’t answer. I hope someone reading this will though…

      One of my co-workers whose parents come from El Salvador and who grew up in L.A. told me today that her parents belonged to a church that did not allow Christmas, Easter or Halloween celebrations in their home.

      • bronxboy55 says:

        I just realized how much I enjoy learning about the celebrations of other cultures, including those of India — especially as explained by our friend, Priya. I also like the Mexican “Day of the Dead.” What a beautiful tradition. Thank you, Rosie, for the explanation and photographs.

        The “trick” part of “Trick or Treat” is, I believe, a mild threat: “Give me a treat or I’ll play a trick on you.” That’s how I’ve always interpreted it. The trick might involve soaping your car, throwing eggs at your house, smashing your pumpkin, or worse.

      • dearrosie says:

        Dear Charles,
        I also love learning about celebrations in other cultures. I’m sure that’s why I studied Anthropology.

        Thank you for explaining the “trick” part of Halloween. I didn’t realize that throwing a pumpkin at the house was part of the “trick”. We’d usually run out of candy around 9pm when little kids were in bed anyway, so we’d put out the lights, and call it a day, but sometimes the older kids who were still roaming the streets would throw pumpkins at our house. It made a heck of a mess on the walls, and made me *mad*.

  5. Sybil says:

    Great post Rosie. I learned a lot. Thanks.

  6. jane tims says:

    Hi Rosie. Very informative and I love the chubby little witch on a stick. Happy Hallowe’en. Jane

    • dearrosie says:

      Happy Hallowe’en Jane. I also love the photo of the chubby little witch. She’s part of a shadow puppet set we sold at the Museum. When I saw her months ago I knew I had to photograph her.

  7. Thanks for all this information, Rosie! So much of it I’ve never heard before… Love the picture of the costumes on the children in the Netherlands. When I was a kid we used to trick-or-treat for UNICEF. Wondering what happened to that practice…

    • dearrosie says:

      Hi Barbara,
      It’s fascinating isn’t it? I also had no idea how the Day of the Dead and Halloween were both connected to an ancient Celtic new year’s day celebration, and learned a lot when I wrote this post.

      My kids also used to carry UNICEF boxes when they went out trick-or-treating.

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