by | Oct 2, 2016 | Celtic Times | 0 comments


“Hallowe’en” and customs around death and afterlife are celebrated worldwide in different ways. As our population locally becomes more diverse, our events this year are showing that in many cultures throughout the world there are autumn traditions remembering the dead, marking the coming of winter and warding off of evil spirits.

Some experts say All Hallows’ Eve (where we get the word ‘Hallowe’en from) started out in harvest festivals and pagan festivals of the dead, particularly the Celtic ‘Samhin’ (meaning ‘Summer’s End’) but others say Hallowe’en comes from Christian roots around All Saints and All Souls days. Across different continents customs around death and the afterlife have different styles, but share common themes like flowers, fasting, feasting, prayer, lanterns, fire, dance, song, food, sweets, blessings and offerings.


The Celtic Festival of ‘Samhain’ marked with bonfires, divination games and rituals, was held at the end of harvest around October 31st. Irish stories and myths are often linked to Samhain marking the start of the ‘darker half’ of the year. It was a time when the ‘door’ to the otherworld opened enough for the souls of the dead and other fairies to visit their former homes of our world. But beware – some spirits were thought to be harmful! Celts wore costumes to disguise themselves from evil spirits and carved turnip ‘jack-o’-lanterns’ with faces to scare away the bad fairies!


Christian attitudes to Hallowe’en are diverse. The 1st November is ‘All Saints Day’ and the 2nd November is ‘All Souls Day’. In some Christian traditions early November is a time of ringing bells, worship and fasting and a time for honoring the saints and praying for recently departed who have yet to reach Heaven. Other traditions don’t believe in purgatory and praying for the dead, and don’t celebrate Hallowe’en, but may have harvest services at this time of year.


This year’s Hallowe’en pageant theme is the ‘Day of the Dead’ or ‘Día de Muertos’. Originally it’s a Mexican holiday when family and friends get together on 1st and 2nd November to pray for and removed loved ones who have died. Mexicans visit graves or make alters honoring the dead using sugar skulls, marigolds, food and drink.

The holiday has spread throughout Latin America: in Brazil, ‘Dia de Finados’ is a positive holiday for visiting cemeteries and churches with candles and flowers. In Guatemala special giant kites are flown to link with the spiritual world and in Ecuador the Quecha peoples bring food offerings to graves. In Haiti, voodoo traditions have loud drums and music playing at all-night celebrations at cemeteries to waken Baron Samedi, the Loa of the Dead, and his mischievous family of offspring, the Gede. For the Bolivian ‘Dia de los ñatitas’ (Day of the Skulls) there is an Andean tradition of the skulls of family members being kept at home to watch over the family and protect them during the year! In November skulls are decorated with flowers and offerings of cigarettes, coca leaves, alcohol to ask for continued protection. In Spain, there are festivals, parades, cemetery services and prayer.


In 2014 Diwali starts on 23rd October. It is a 5 day ‘Festival of Light’ celebrated particularly in India and other parts of Asia including Nepal, Sri Lanka, Malaysia and Singapore. For Hindus, Diwali is one of the most important festivals of the year and is celebrated by families wearing new clothes and sharing sweets and snacks and setting off firecrackers or fireworks to drive away evil spirits. Small clay lamps filled with oil are lit to signify the triumph of good over evil. These lamps are kept on during the night and one’s house is cleaned, both done in order to make the goddess Lakshmi (symbolizing prosperity) feel welcome. Diwali is celebrated in this city by much of our local Indian Community.


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