Dia de los Muertos, Day of the Dead; Christians mark All Saints & All Souls

Multi-tiered table with colorful skulls, decor and large photos hanging above on wall

An altar for Dia de los Muertos, Day of the Dead. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 1 and SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 2: The holidays following All Hallows Eve shift our cultural gears from witches, black cats and goblins to a solemnity recalling loved ones. On November 1, Christians observe All Saints’ Day; the following day, Christians pay tribute to the faithful departed, on All Souls’ Day, while in Mexico and Latin American countries, Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) vibrantly reflects these observances. During these days, the faithful honor deceased relatives and honor God’s work through the deeds of the saints of the Church.

Think the concept of All Saints and All Souls is strictly Christian? Consider for a moment the similar ideas behind the Chinese Ghost Festival, the Japanese Bon Festival and the Roman custom of Lemuria.

Overhead view of lit candles and lights on ground

Candles and lights for All Souls’ Day, the Day of the Dead. Photo in public domain courtesy of Pixabay

ALL SAINTS’ DAY:
FOR THOSE KNOWN AND UNKNOWN

Halloween is also known as All Hallows Eve. All Saints’ Day is alternatively referred to as its counterpart: All Hallows, or Hallowmas. Though marked by Eastern Christians on the first Sunday after Pentecost, Western Christians observe the solemnity of All Saints today, in honor of all the saints known and unknown.

Though evidence exists of earlier commemorations for the graceful departed, the Western Christian festival of All Saints began in 609 or 610 CE—when Pope Boniface IV consecrated and rededicated the Pantheon at Rome to the Blessed Virgin and all martyrs. (Learn more from EWTN and Catholic.org.) Observance varies slightly within Western Christian sects: many United Methodist congregations hold a commemoration on the first Sunday of November, for saints, all departed Christians and members of the congregation who have died within the past year; Lutherans observe All Saints’ Day and Reformation Day concurrently. In many countries, and in cities like New Orleans, people take flowers and light candles at the grave sites of their deceased loved ones on All Saints’ Day. (Get an inside view of Sweden’s traditions here.)

Catholic theology holds that All Saints’ Day belongs to all those who have attained the beatific vision in Heaven.

DIA DE LOS MUERTOS:
MEXICO’S COLORFUL DAY OF THE DEAD

Vibrant decorations for Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, mark towns in Mexico and Latin American communities far and wide, as the lives of the departed are celebrated with vigor. The full festival of Dia de los Muertos typically lasts two or three days (in some regions, customs begin on October 31), and traditionally, November 1 pays tribute to the souls of children and the innocent while November 2 is dedicated to deceased adult souls. (Learn more from Mex Connect.) In Mexico, relatives adorn altars and graves with elaborate garlands and wreaths, crosses made of flowers and special foods. Families gather in cemeteries, where pastors bestow prayers upon the dead. For children, Dia de los Muertos celebrations mean candy like sugar skulls and once-a-year treats, and music and dancing for all.

ALL SOULS’ DAY:
PRAYING FOR THE FAITHFUL DEPARTED

Catholics tradition still separates the departed faithful between “purified” and “not purified,” so many families commemorate souls that have not yet reached Heaven on All Souls’ Day. The Catholic Church still teaches that when souls are not cleansed of venial sin or transgressions upon bodily death, they remain in Purgatory. Many believe that the faithful on earth can pray, perform good deeds and make offerings at Mass for the souls in Purgatory, thereby helping them to attain the beatific vision. (Wikipedia has details.)

Folk belief holds that the souls of Purgatory are able to return to earth on All Souls’ Day, and as such, believers in many countries prepare foods and welcome the departed souls. It should be noted, however, that this traditional teaching and practice is not universally emphasized in Catholic communities.

Engage children in the events of these days by regaling stories of deceased relatives or by bringing out photo albums with old photos.

Soul food takes on a new meaning during these days, and recipes for traditional cookies called Ossi di Morto (Bones of the Dead), Pan de Muerto (a bread) and sugar skulls can be found here. Find more recipes courtesy of The Guardian.

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