Trick or treat
Smell my feet
Give me something good to eat.
If you don’t, I don’t care
I’ll pull down your underwear.
It’s that time of year again. Halloween. Probably one of the most beloved holidays in America — oddly enough considering it’s all about haunted houses, scary attractions and taking over entire amusement parks to terrify patrons — spooking folks about the dead and monsters while downing copious amounts of diabetes inducing sweets. However, it’s also the season for joyfully remembering and celebrating the same dead on the first two days of November who on October 31 we were warding off. What gives?
In honor of these two uniquely disparate celebrations — one that began its life in Ireland as Samhain (pronounced sow-in) and the other thanks to the Aztecs — we thought it would be fun (or scary) to dig into the “why” of three things that make this time of year both spook-tastic and celebratory: dressing up in costume, handing out — or demanding — treats, and the joy that is Dia de Los Muertos.
Wait… what’s Samhain (and why is it pronounced that way)?
A long time ago in a place now known as Ireland, the Celts were living off the land and tied to all things nature. Just for the record, Druids are Celts and they are the dudes who built Stonehenge.
By the way, did you know pretty much everything the world knows about Druids comes from Julius Caesar? THE “et tu, Brute” Julius Caesar?
The Celts celebrated their new year on November 1st back in the day. It was the end of the harvest and the beginning of the cold winter, which had the highest rate of death — the cold, less food, you get it.
ANY way, October 31st being the Celtic New Year’s Eve was also believed to be the time when the curtain between the living and the dead was lifted — sort of similar to Día de los Muertos, when you think about it. However, instead of being a happy time to say, “Hey!” to those from the other side, the night of the Samhain Festivals were set up to protect from former souls. Hearth fires were extinguished and bonfires burned to light the way to the spirit world for the dead and to protect the living from wayward spirits. It’s also the beginning of our tradition number one...
Let’s dress up and fool some ghosts
The Druids were savvy folk and had those gathered dress as demons or the dead to fool the ghosts — good and bad — into believing those in costume were one of them. This protected all humans from wayward spirits — so the superstition goes — and by doing that, the ghosts moved on throughout the night until Samhain was done. At the end of the night, villagers would light their hearths again with the protective bonfire flames, cleansing their homes in the process so they could celebrate the new year without fear the next day.
The night also brought about offerings and sacrifice to the gods and ghosts to appease them. And that’s where we get…
I want candy, bay-bay
Just for the record, candy came later. The way it goes is this:
Samhein is going along on its merry way when the catholic church is established. The holy powers that be didn’t like pagan rituals and decided to shift folks away from Samhain and all of that celebration of the harvest and “mortal veil lifted for the dead to float about with the living” stuff to a more saintly “All Hallow’s Eve.” The faithful began singing for their souls from door-to-door, asking for “soul cakes” — little baked goods with crosses on top that when eaten would save their soul.
After a time, however, the line between All Hallow’s Eve and pagan rituals like Samhein became blurred and costumes were encouraged and going from door to door for the more accessible candy began on October 31st.
¡Feliz Día de los Muertos!
While they share the same time of the year, Día de los Muertos (or Day of the Dead) and Halloween have nothing to do with each other. One is a celebration and welcoming of those who have gone before us — Día de los Muertos — while the other is a warding off — Halloween.
Día de los Muertos has been around since the time of the Aztecs. The belief is that the dead would be offended by sadness and festivities and celebrating the lives that were lived are the focus. Calaveras de azucar (aka sugar skulls) are offered to highlight the sweet to temper the bitterness of loss and the colors of orange and white are big — orange marigolds are left on the graves of adults and white orchids on those of children.
The two days of Día de los Muertos are November 1st and 2nd and tradition holds that graves are swept and adorned with those foods and treats meaningful to the deceased, parties held at the sites and altars to loved ones with their photos, favored foods and more set up in homes. It is a distinctly Latin holiday yet one that has been embraced throughout the United States and the world due to its buoyant showering of love and memory for the people we have lost.
We like to think of Halloween as the dark before the light of Día de los Muertos, embracing the wonder of both unique holidays we here in the States enjoy.
Falling for everything autumn
This time of year is full of wonder and mystery. No matter whether you’re all about scaring or being scared or basking in the glow of honoring those who have passed on, the changing colors, cooling temperatures, and preparation for the coming Winter Solstice creates a magical sense of anticipation.
Enjoy your chosen celebration. Better yet, dive into both All Hallow’s Eve and Day of the Dead with costumed and skull-face painted joy, and ring in the glory that is autumn by embracing every piece of umber-colored deliciousness the season has to offer.
Happy Halloween and Feliz Día de los Muertos!