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Legends and History of Halloween
History and Meanings of Days of the Dead ( Dias de los Muertos)   daydeadhat.jpg (10671 bytes)


Legends and History of Halloween

Halloween is one of the oldest holidays with origins going back thousands of years. The holiday we know as Halloween has had many influences from many cultures over the centuries. From the Roman's Pomona Day, to the Celtic festival of Samhain, to the Christian holidays of All Saints and All Souls Days. Hundreds of years ago in what is now Great Britain and Northern France, lived the Celts. The Celts worshipped nature and had many gods, with the sun god as their favorite. It was the Sun God who commanded their work and their rest times, and who made the earth beautiful and the crops grow. The Celts celebrated their New Year on November 1st. It was celebrated every year with a festival and marked the end of the "season of the sun" and the beginning of "the season of darkness and cold." The Celts believed, that during the winter, the sun god was taken prisoner by Samhain, the Lord of the Dead and Prince of Darkness.

On the eve before their new year (October 31), it was believed that Samhain called together all the dead people. The dead would take different forms, with the bad spirits taking the form of animals. The most evil taking the form of cats.

On October 31st after the crops were all harvested and stored for the long winter the cooking fires in the homes would be
extinguished. The Druids, the Celtic priests, would meet in the hilltop in the dark oak forest (oak trees were considered sacred). The Druids would light new fires and offer sacrifices of crops and animals. As they danced around the the fires, the season of the sun passed and the season of darkness would begin.

When the morning arrived the Druids would give an ember from their fires to each family who would then take them home to start new cooking fires. These fires would keep the homes warm and free from evil spirits. The November 1st festival was named after Samhain and honored both the sun god and Samhain. The festival would last for 3 days. Many people would parade in costumes made from the skins and heads of their animals. This festival would become the first Halloween.

During the first century the Romans invaded Britain. They brought with them many of their festivals and customs. One of these was the festival know as Pomona Day, named for their goddess of fruits and gardens. It was also celebrated around the 1st of November. After hundreds of years of Roman rule the customs of the Celtic's Samhain festival and the Roman Pomona Day
mixed becoming 1 major fall holiday.

The next influence came with the spread of the new Christian religion throughout Europe and Britain. In the year 835 AD the Roman Catholic Church would make November 1st a church holiday to honor all the saints. This day was called All Saint's Day, or Hallowmas, or All Hallows. Years later the Church would make November 2nd a holy day. It was called All Souls
Day and was to honor the dead. It was celebrated with big bonfires, parades, and people dressing up as saints, angels and devils.

But the spread of Christianity did not make people forget their early customs. On the eve of All Hallows, Oct. 31, people continued to celebrate the festival of Samhain and Pomona Day. Over the years the customs from all these holidays mixed. October 31st became known as All Hallow Even, eventually All Hallow's Eve, Hallowe'en, and then - Halloween.

The Halloween we celebrate today includes all of these influences, Pomona Day's apples, nuts, and harvest, the Festival of Sanhain's black cats, magic, evil spirits and death, and the ghosts, skeletons and skulls from All Saint's Day and All Soul's Day.

Los Dias de los Muertos   Day of the Dead graphic (1953 bytes)    Days of the Dead    

Los Dias de los Muertos, the Days of the Dead, is a traditional Mexico holiday honoring the dead. It is celebrated every year at the same time as Halloween and the Christian holy days of All Saints Day and All Souls Day (November 1st and 2nd). Los Dias de los Muertos is not a sad time, but instead a time of remembering and rejoicing.

In many places the townspeople dress up as ghouls, ghosts, mummies and skeletons and parade through the town carrying an open coffin. The "corpse" within smiles as it is carried through the narrow streets of town. The local vendors toss oranges inside as the procession makes its way past their markets. Lucky "corpses" can also catch flowers, fruits, and candies.

In the homes families arrange ofrenda's or "altars" with flowers, bread, fruit and candy. Pictures of the deceased family members are added. In the late afternoon special all night burning candles are lit - it is time to remember the departed - the old ones, their parents and grandparents.

The next day the families travel to the cemetery, with hoes, picks and shovels. They also carry flowers, candles, blankets, and picnic baskets. They have come to clean and maintain the graves of their loved ones. The Crypts are scrubbed and swept. Colorful flowers, bread, fruit and candles are placed on the graves. Some bring guitars and radios to listen to. Some families will spend the entire night in the cemeteries. Different parts of the country celebrate this holiday a little differently. In some places an entire meal will be left overnight when the family leaves.

Skeletons and skulls are found everywhere. Chocolate, marzipan and white chocoloate skulls,coffins, and skeletons are especially enjoyed. Special loaves of bread are baked, called "pan de muertos", and decorated with "bones". Skeleton figurines, called calacas, are especially popular. Calacas usually show an active and joyful afterlife. Figures of musicians, mariachis,generals on horseback, even skeletal brides, in their white bridal gowns marching down the aisles with their boney grooms are especially fun.

The celebration of Los Dias de los Muertos, like the customs of Halloween, evolved with the influences of the
Celtics, the Romans, and the Christian holy days of All Saints Day and All Souls Day. But with added influences
from the Aztec people of Mexico. The Aztecs believed in an afterlife where the spirits of their dead would return as hummingbirds and butterflies. Every autumn Monarch Butterflies, which have summered up north in the United States and Canada, return to Mexico for the winter protection of the oyamel fir trees. The locale inhabitants welcome back the
returning butterflies, which many believe bear the spirits of their departed. The spirits to be honored during Los
Dias de los Muertos.Even images carved in the ancient Aztec monuments show this belief - the linking the spirits of the
dead and the Monarch butterfly.

For more information about the history of other holidays, click here.

 

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