2Samhain, Pre-Christian Halloween • Pre-Christianity Celts used to mark their year as six months of light and six months of dark. Beltane on May 1st marked the beginning of the six months of light. Samhain on November 1st marked the beginning of the six months of dark. A form of Halloween originated among the Celts when they observed or marked the beginning of the six months of darkness, or, in essence, winter.• Celts believed that Samhain was the time that marked when the division (veil) between the worlds of the living and the dead became very thin and when ghosts and spirits were free to wander as they wished.• On the night of Samhain, it was believed spirits of the restless dead and mischievous spirits would freely roam about with humans and during this one night spirits were able to make contact with the physical world as their magic was at its height.• The Celts believed that by allowing the dead to have access to the world on this one evening, they would be satisfied to return to the land of the dead.• A problem for the Celtic people was that if the souls of the dead loved-ones could return that night then so could anything else, human or not, nice or not-so-nice. So to protect themselves on such an occasion, these superstitious people would masquerade as one of the demonic hoard, wearing masks and other disguises and blackening the face with soot to hopefully blend in unnoticed among them.
4The story of “Stingy Jack” As the Europeans found their way to the New World, they brought with them their traditionswhich soon evolved to fit their new country. Many customs still observed today come from theseancient beliefs. One example is the elaborately carved jack-o-lantern said to have been named afterthe Irish story of a greedy, hard-drinking gambling man, Stingy Jack, who tricked the Devil intoclimbing a tree and trapped him there by carving a crude cross into the trunk of the tree. In revengefor being stuck in the tree, the Devil cursed Jack and made him walk the earth at night for eternity.The jack-o-lantern of today is carved with a scary face to keep Jack and other spirits from enteringtheir homes.
5Christianity and Halloween • The early Christian Church usually adopted pagan customs and the dates of pagan festivals and adapted them to fit the church to make conversion less of a shock to the newly-converted pagans and to those they were trying to convert to Christianity.• In the 7th century Pope Boniface IV instituted All Saints’ Day as a time to honor saints and martyrs, replacing the pagan festival of the dead.• In 834 Pope Gregory III moved All Saints’ Day to November 1st coinciding with the Celtic Samhain. Eventually, November 2nd became All Souls’ Day.• Thus, October 31st became All Hallow’s Evening or All Hallow’s Eve. “Hallow” means “blessed” or “holy”.• Eventually, All Hallow’s Eve shortened to Halloween.• The Church could not, however, stamp out our fascination with the dead and the belief in the roaming of the spirits of our dead loved-ones.
6Mexico’s Day of the Dead or El Día de los Muertos • Mexicans is quite unique in their view of death. They believe that death is a natural part of life’s cycle, not something to be afraid of.• Present-day citizens of Mexico inherited their belief in the dead from the Aztecs. The Aztecs held a month-long festival of Death and Flowers as a reminder of the beauty and fleeting nature of life. The Aztecs did not believe that death was the end but the continuation of life itself.• The Mexican Day of the Dead is actually 2 days. It begins around sundown on October 31st and ends around midnight on November 2nd.• To the Mexicans it is a belief that during these 2 days their deceased loved-ones truly return to them so they are welcomed back as a part of their daily lives like they were before they died. To them, it is important that things be as they were when their loved-ones were alive.• The 2 days are observed for 2 types of dead loved-ones:November 1st is El Día de los Inocentes – devoted to children who have passedNovember 2nd is devoted to adults who have passed
7• Weeks before markets are filled with toys related to death – cardboard skeletons that dance on strings (calacas), clay skulls, coffins with skeletons (esquéletos) that pop out of them, and alfeñiques (colorful iced sugar skulls).• Families make careful preparations for the fiesta. They sweep and clean graves and tombstones. In their homes they set up altars with papel picado (colorful cut paper representing death) and photos and mementos of deceased family members. Among these altars they place ofrendas (offerings) of candles, flowers, and incense or copal. The favorite foods of the dead are also placed on the altars.• Bakeries feature a special round cake called Pan de Muertos or Bread of the Dead. It may be decorated with different icings and also in the shape of a skull and crossbones.• Children eat small blue and pink candy skulls that have their names pasted on the foreheads.• The Day of the Dead marks parades with marchers in skeleton masks and other costumes representing death. Young men carry coffins from which fake skeletons pop up and wave playfully to the crowd.• Above all, it is a time for families to visit cemeteries (cemeterios). They bring candles, food and armloads of calendulas (marigolds). Marigolds or cempazuchitl have been used since Aztec times to acknowledge death.
8• Candles are used to illuminate paths for the spirits to follow, incense is burned to chase away bad spirits, marigolds are used to create paths for the spirits and to adorn wreaths and crosses.• Families have picnics in the cemeteries.• Hundreds of candles glow as families keep watch beside the decorated graves.• It is an ancestral tradition that when blended with Catholicism creates a special time and space to remember and honor loved-ones by offering them an ofrenda, the fragrance of the cempazuchitl flower, the light of the candles, the smell of the burning of the incense copal, the aroma of special foods and the solemnity of prayers.• Although the Day of the Dead is a time to remember those who have gone, it is not an unhappy fiesta. Rather, it is a time to connect the past and the future with the present. And it reassures those who are living that when they too have died, they will not be forgotten.