Monday, November 01, 2010

All Saints Day, All Souls Day, Dia de los Muertos, Samhain

What do All Saints Day, All Souls Day, Dia de Los Muertos, and Samhain have in common? Each is a celebration of the dead.

I’m Protestant, but I love the first three celebrations because they are about respect for those who’ve gone before us. How could anyone who loves history and family history as much as I do fail to feel that way? Different Christian traditions define, remember, and respond to the departed in different ways. All Souls' Day is celebrated the first Sunday in November in the church to which I belong. In the morning church service, a candle is lighted for each person of the congregation who has died during the past year as that person’s name is read aloud. Following immediately, a minister offers a prayer of remembrance.

All Saints
 According to Wikipedia, All Saints' Day (in the Roman Catholic Church officially the Solemnity of All Saints and also called All Hallows or Hallowmas), often shortened to All Saints, is a solemnity celebrated in honor of all the saints, both known and unknown. In Western Christianity the celebration is on November 1st. In Eastern Christianity, the observance is on the first Sunday after Pentecost. In many countries, All Saints Day is a federal holiday. 

"Day of the Dead" by
William Bougereau
All Souls' Day commemorates the faithful departed. In Western Christianity, this day is observed principally in the Catholic Church, although some churches of the Anglican Communion and the Old Catholic Churches also celebrate it. The Eastern Orthodox churches observe several All Souls' Days during the year. When they died, the souls had not yet attained full sanctification and moral perfection, a requirement for entrance into Heaven. This sanctification is carried out posthumously in Purgatory.

Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is a holiday celebrated by many in Mexico and by some Mexican Americans living in the United States and Canada. The holiday focuses on gatherings of family and friends to pray for and remember friends and family members who have died. The celebration occurs on November 2 in connection with the Catholic holidays of All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day. Traditions connected with the holiday include building private altars honoring the deceased using sugar skulls, marigolds, and the favorite foods and beverages of the departed and visiting graves with these as gifts. Due to occurring shortly after Halloween, the Day of the Dead is sometimes thought to be a similar holiday, although the two actually have little in common. The Day of the Dead is a time of celebration, where partying and eating is common.

Scholars trace the origins of the modern holiday to indigenous observances dating back thousands of years and to an Aztec festival dedicated to a goddess called Mictecacihuatl. In Brazil, Dia de Finados is a public holiday that many Brazilians celebrate by visiting cemeteries and churches. In Spain, there are festivals and parades, and, at the end of the day, people gather at cemeteries and pray for their dead loved ones. Similar observances occur elsewhere in Europe, and similarly themed celebrations appear in many Asian and African cultures.

End Of The Harvest
Samhain ( /ˈsɑːwɪn/, /ˈsaʊ.ɪn/, or /ˈsaʊn/) is a Gaelic festival held on October 31–November 1. The Irish name Samhain is derived from Old Irish and means roughly "summer's end". A harvest festival with ancient roots in Celtic polytheism, it was linked to festivals held around the same time in other Celtic cultures, and continued to be celebrated in late medieval times. Due to its date it became associated with the Christian festival All Saints Day, and greatly influenced modern celebration of Halloween. Samhain marked the end of the harvest, the end of the lighter half of the year and beginning of the darker half. It was traditionally celebrated over the course of several days. Many scholars believe that it was the beginning of the Celtic year. It has some elements of a festival of the dead.

Witch at Samhain
Because so many plants and animals were dying, the Gaels believed that the border between this world and the otherworld became thin on Samhain. This it allowed the dead to reach back through the veil that separated them from the living. Bonfires played a large part in the festivities. People and their livestock would often walk between two bonfires as a cleansing ritual, and the bones of slaughtered livestock were cast into its flames. The Gaelic custom of wearing costumes and masks, was an attempt to copy the spirits or placate them.  I've no idea why Samhain became a time linked to Wicca, but I suppose (personal opinion only) it was linked because of Wicca's ties to nature.

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