While we see our neighbours and friends getting ready for Halloween with spooky ghosts and pumpkins on their porches, we forget the origins of this now mostly secular holiday.
While today we celebrate October 31st by dressing up in costumes, trick-or-treating, attending parties, carving pumpkins, and watching scary movies, but it wasn’t always like that.
Like most western holidays, the origins are quite different from the present day traditions.
All Hallows Eve
All Hallows Eve is the night before All Hallows Day – also known as All Saints Day. In early Christianity, this meant praying for the souls of the recently departed. In some churches, parishioners would actually visit the cemeteries to lay flowers and light candles on the graves of loved ones. In some cultures they would leave out meals for these spirits of loved ones. This is perhaps where we get the spooky imagery of graveyards at night. That said, All Hollows Eve was not meant to be scary – but more of a tradition.
Jack-o-lanterns were created by celtic cultures for All Hallows Eve to scare off evil spirits.
Day of the Dead
Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead in Spanish) is a Mexican holiday that happens on November 2 that is closely connected with All Souls Day – the Christian holiday that happens the day after All Hallows Day.
Much like All Hallows Eve, the Day of the Dead is about gathering to remember family members who have passed on. While many Roman Catholic Mexicans celebrate All Saints Day, Día de Muertos is believed to have originated from an Aztec festival.
Traditions include adorning graves of loved ones with marigolds, bread, sugar skulls, tissue paper, fruit and nuts, incense, and more. Sugar skulls have become a popular image in North American culture these days – with the images adorning clothing, cellphone cases, and other items.
Sugar skulls (calavera) are decorative offerings designed to look like a human skull, with some adornments. Small sugar skulls were made to represent children who had passed, and larger ones representing adults.
Day of the Dead is a chance for the living to communicate in some way with their departed relatives. People often share funny or heartwarming stories as a way to interact and remember their loved ones. Their favourite foods are left on their graves, which are gathered before hand in preparation for this day.
Whether you consider yourself to be a religious or spiritual person or not, you can take some of these traditions and use them in your daily life. Sharing stories about loved ones and remembering and celebrating their life is important. We don’t have to stop sharing stories once the funeral is over. Keep your loved ones alive in your heart by sharing the joy and laughter they brought you.
Celebrate your loved one with a memorial.