While the passing of a loved one can be a somber affair, we also look to celebrate their memory and life while we grieve their passing. This is done in different ways around the world. However, no matter the culture we all look at celebrating the life along with paying our respects to those we have lost. Here is our look at some of these celebrations from around the world.
Halloween and the Saints
All-Hallows Eve, popularly known as Halloween, didn’t start off as a night to dress up, get candy, and have a good time while dressed as someone else. It’s origins date back to the ancient Celts celebration of Samhain. This celebration was done to celebrate the end of the harvest and was seen as when the boundary between our world and the world of the spirits became mutable, allowing spirits to cross over to our world. The wearing of costumes, holding parades, bonfires, and pranking is as ancient as the origins of this holiday. Interestingly enough, the wearing of costumes was originally to fool the spirits that crossed over into thinking that you were a ghost as well so you weren’t accosted by them. After the spread of Christianity, the Catholic Church absorbed the holiday of Samhain into it’s celebration of All-Saints day which was also known as All-Hallows, which the evening before was called All-Hallows Eve.
Which leads us to our next holiday of All-Saints Day and All-Souls Day. These holidays are some of the oldest holy days of the Catholic Church. All-Saints day was to pay respect and prayers for the souls of unknown saints and martyrs who gave their lives for the grace of god and the church. All-Souls Day is even more somber, as it is to pray for the souls trapped in purgatory, so their souls are cleansed of their earthly sins and they can ascend to heaven.
Obon, The Lantern Festival
Next, we have Obon, which is the Japanese Lantern Festival. This Buddhist tradition has been celebrated in Japan for over 500 years and is held every August for three days. During this time, it is believed that spirits pass over into our world, however, unlike Halloween, which sees the spirits as violent and mean us harm, the spirits that cross over during Obon are here to visit their relatives. Many Buddhists in Japan celebrate this holiday by preparing special food and drink for their ancestors’ spirits. These special offerings are placed at temples and shrines to honor the dead. When night comes, families light paper lanterns and hang them in front of their home to guide the spirits to their home. At the close of the festival, people light colored paper lanterns and send them down the rivers and bays of Japan out to sea. This is to help guide the spirits back to the afterlife until the next festival.
Los Dios de los Muertos (The Days of the Dead)
The Mexican cousin to All-Saints day and All-Souls Day, Los Dios de los Muertos is also celebrated on the first two days of November. Like Halloween, this holiday is also a blending of ancient cultures with Christianity and actually dates back to the Aztecs and Mayans. The Aztecs and Mayans festival of the dead was not a day or week long holiday, but actually went on for two months. During this two month period, the fall harvest and death were celebrated and honored. During this time, offerings in the form of food, alcohol, flowers, and ceramics were prepared for the deceased. The Aztecs and Mayans both believed that at the culmination of the festival, the dead passed back over to the land of the living to visit their families and loved ones they left behind. When the Spanish Conquistadors invaded and brought with them Catholicism, they tried to bring this festival under the auspices of All-Saints day and All-Souls day, which today are celebrated in Mexico as Los Dios de los Muertos.
During these two days, living relatives invite the recently deceased back to their family home to visit those who they’ve left behind. Family members will leave photographs of loved ones lost at their grave site or at a family altar along with food, drink, and flowers. This festival is especially important for those who have passed recently as it is a way to help with the grieving process. Additionally, the preparation of the family altar is an extremely important part of this ritual. The altar is usually adorned with flowers to symbolize the shortness of all life, along with sweets, fruits, and other foods. Additionally, the well known Calaveras also take their place on the shrine, these skeletons are depicted in different life poses, from cooking to playing in a mariachi band and are meant to be a reminder to celebrate the life the person lived and to bring a smile to the aggrieved.
Wherever you are from, everyone around the world celebrates the memories of the loved ones who have passed. It helps us grieve and helps us remember those of us who are with us in memory and spirit.