My Wonderful Life

Holidays Commemorating the Deceased

posted on 10/24/11 by Staff

In honor of upcoming Halloween festivities, here are some facts about how Halloween came to be, and the traditions of old that inspire the traditions of today.

Influences of the Past

Halloween itself is thought to have evolved from two different celebrations: Parentalia and Samhain.

Parentalia or dies parentales ("ancestral days"): Beginning on February 13, this nine-day festival celebrated in ancient Rome honored family ancestors. Families would visit their burial spot and bring offerings of water, wine, milk, honey, oil, and flowers, and ask the deceased for good fortune and all things needed.

Samhain, marking the end of the harvest, was a Gaelic festival also associated with the slaughter of animals used to survive the approaching winter. Families would light their hearths with the common flame from a community bon fire to signify the unity between them through the long, cold winter. Costumes and masks emulating evil spirits were worn in an attempt copy or appease them. 

Present-day Celebrations

Halloween: Formed over time, Halloween traditions now include trick-or-treating, costume parties, eating candy, carving pumpkins, haunted hayrides, playing pranks, telling scary stories, and watching horror films. Halloween is viewed as having a Christian connection, and Halloween celebrations are common in Catholic parochial schools throughout North America and in Ireland. However, it is not celebrated around the world, and the way in which it is celebrated varies from country to country.

Día de los Muertos ("Day of the Dead"): The ancient Mexican holiday Dia de los Muertos, celebrated on November 1st and 2nd, commemorates friends and family who have passed away. Traditions associated with the holiday include building large private altars for the deceased using sugar skulls, marigolds, and any of their favorite foods or beverages. Pictured below are photos from a recent Dia de los Muertos celebration that already happened in L.A. at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery. “The twelve hour event featured multi-cultural rituals and meditations of Mexican, Aztec, Mayan, Indian heritage, but the cornerstone of the event were the more than fifty altar exhibits.”

Image Source: Día de los Muertos


Ghost Festival: In Chinese tradition, the Ghost Festival is on the 15th night of the seventh lunar month (Ghost Day). It is on this day that the ghosts of deceased ancestors are believed to visit the living. The seventh month in is also referred to as Ghost Month (鬼月), in which ghosts and spirits come back from the lower realm. These ghosts are believed to be ancestors of those who didn't pay tribute to them after they passed on. Large feasts are held for the ghosts and food samples are placed on offering tables in hopes of warding off bad luck.

Image Source: Ghost Festival

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