Halloween, Samhain, Allhallowtide & Dia de los Muertos: legends abound!

Kid's fingers pressing eye onto Jack-o-Lantern decorated caramel apple

Photo by Personal Creations, courtesy of Flickr

MONDAY, OCTOBER 31 and TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 1 and WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 2: From mulled wine and apples to costumes and candy, deck the halls with fright and get ready for the spookiest night of the year: Halloween!

Drawing on ancient beliefs of wandering souls and spirits at this time of year, some traditions of Halloween shadow the rituals of an early Gaelic festival known as Samhain, which resonated across Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man. Today’s Wiccans observe Samhain as a Sabbat, while Pagans—including Neopagans and Celtic Reconstructionists—attempt to observe its rituals as close as possible to their original form.

Beyond Scotland, Ireland and the migration of Scots and Irish to other parts of the world, the tradition of Halloween is fairly new in the long sweep of global culture. Of course, Western influence is potent stuff, and Western images of witches, black cats and trick or treating now have circled the planet. Halloween slowly picked up speed and now is observed as far from the Celtic homeland as Asia and Africa. Today, it’s common for children around the world to dress in costume, for adults to hold costume parties and for everyone to try a hand at carving jack-o’-lanterns. In some countries, bonfires and fireworks are common additions to nighttime trick-or-treating.

Group of three kids in Halloween costumes

Photo by popofatticus, courtesy of Flickr

Did you know? The first record of pumpkin carving in America was penned in 1837; by the 1930s, so many Americans were trick-or-treating that mass-produced Halloween costumes were introduced in stores.

For Christians, the triduum of Halloween recalls deceased loved ones and martyrs; in Mexico and Latin American countries, Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) vibrantly reflects these types of observances. Secularly, Halloween is a time for costumes, pumpkins and candy, though for centuries, this time of the year has been regarded as an occasion when the veil between this world and—the other-world—is at its thinnest point.

SAMHAIN AND IRISH MYTHOLOGY

Born of a pastoral people, Samhain began in the oral traditions of Irish mythology; it wasn’t until the Middle Ages when visiting Christian monks began penning some of the tales. Ancient pagan traditions regard this as a night beyond all nights; the beginning of the dark half of the year; the final harvest, and a space in time when spiritual veils are lifted. Even the earliest cultures believed that spirits could access our world most easily at this time of year, so bonfires were lit to protect and cleanse people, livestock and pastures. Feasts were prepared, and the spirits of deceased ancestors were invited into the home with altars. Evil spirits were kept away with “guising” (costuming to fool the spirits), and turnip lanterns were often set in windows to scare evil spirits or to represent spiritual beings—a custom that likely evolved into the modern jack-o-lantern.

Today, many Pagans and Wiccans keep the widespread traditions of lighting bonfires, paying homage to ancestors and preparing feasts with apples, nuts, meats, seasonal vegetables and mulled wines.

‘ALLHALLOWTIDE’

In worldwide Christian tradition, millions still observe “Allhallowtide,” which is the name of this triduum (or special three-day period) that begins with All Hallows Eve and continues through All Saints Day on November 1 and All Souls Day on November 2. While Catholics, Anglicans and many other denominations still have an “All Souls Day” on their liturgical calendars, many Protestant and evangelical churches have abandoned this traditional three-day cycle.

Did you know? The word Halloween is of Christian origin, and is also known as All Hallows Eve. All Saints’ Day is alternatively referred to as its counterpart: All Hallows, or Hallowmas.

Dancers in colorful Dia de los Muertos skirts and clothes, with faces painted

Dia de los Muertos celebrations in Chihuahua City, Mexico. Photo by Ted McGrath, courtesy of Flickr

The most popular of the three holidays in congregations coast to coast is All Saints Day, which falls on a Sunday this year. Millions of families will attend Sunday services on November 1 that include special remembrances of members who have passed in the previous year. Still mourning someone in your community? Show up at a local church observing All Saints Day and there likely will be a time to remember that person.

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. 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; music and dancing delight celebrants of all ages.

HALLOWEEN DECORATIONS, RECIPES & MORE

Decorating your home for Halloween? Get creative ideas at DIY Network.

For the more sophistocated crafter, Martha Stewart offers up ideas on homemade decorations.

Kids can give it a try with ideas from FamilyFun.

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