Halloween and the Day of the Dead

Trick or treat? (Provided photo — Diane Chase)

Halloween is almost here! It’s one of my favorite celebrations. Halloween was my chosen wedding day, but my husband refused to be married by someone dressed as Beetlejuice. He has no vision. The menu practically plans itself.

I’m not one for jump-scares or horror movies, but I do love an opportunity to dress up. This way, I can pass out Halloween candy while wearing a tiara and a pair of wings without being judged by the neighbors. I know, I know. It sounds like just a regular night at the Chase household. The other family members prefer to look to the pagan holiday as a test of bravery or an opportunity to find out fishnet stockings are itchy and uncomfortable. Most children have probably seen makeup tutorials more frightening than any haunted house I could whip together.

While your children are learning Korean watching Squid Games and not even flinching, I am going down the rabbit hole to find the differences or similarities between these Halloween-like holidays. The origin of the word Halloween (Hallow or “holy person” and “een,” a contraction for eve) is just the night before All Saints’ Day. Nov. 1 is a Christian holiday dedicated to celebrating saints and those departed.

Please understand that I can’t always sum up a religious holiday in a few words. Here are a few highlights regarding these holiday evolutions. Some sources link Halloween’s frightening past to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain originating from two Gaelic words, “sam” and “fain” meaning “end of summer.” The festival ended the harvest and welcomed the beginning of winter. With superstition and religious undertones, Halloween was also when people thought the divide between worlds thinned and the dead could return to cause mischief such as crop failure and famine. People gave gifts of food to appease any troublesome spirits.

Halloween shouldn’t be confused with the Day of the Dead. This traditional Mexican holiday on Nov. 2 celebrates the departed. The 3,000-year-old celebration brings families together to aid a loved one’s journey from the Land of the Dead through nine challenging levels before reaching their final resting place. Food and water are often left at the graves to further assist in this extended passage. The Day of the Dead also celebrates the thinning between worlds allowing the dead to visit family members and celebrate with costumes and parades. The departed are honored guests, with memories of them strengthened through festive music and dance. If I had a choice, I’d lean toward the Day of the Dead. I like the thought of being visited by family and sharing their histories.

I may not have all the answers and still don’t like jump-scares, but I like knowing we can welcome those people we miss the most. Of course, I also have two large bags of candy and an incredible costume. I’m not taking any chances.


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