Halloween and Día de los Muertos
First I must start by saying I am getting this post out late due to my non-existant internet access from our property in Big Bend (but soon we will have). This blog is to set the record straight on Halloween.
I recently read an article on Amy Poehler's "SMART GIRLS," blog entitled "Día de los Muertos is not Halloween." Well, that's completely wrong and stupid. And this is not the first poorly researched article I have come across on her blog. Perhaps she should change it to "DUMB GIRLS," or "NOT-SO SMART GIRLS." But I digress, So I decided to not only set the record straight on Halloween but Día de los Muertos as well.
To start, saying that Halloween is NOT Día de los Muertos is like saying Christmas Eve is NOT Christmas, or New Year's Eve is NOT New Years, well...techinically...yes they are TWO seperate days...But they are celebrating the same thing! And that is essentially what this Dumb Girl article was trying to say about Halloween and Día de los Muertos...that they celebrate two different things. WRONG!
The Dumb Girl article discusses the differences in the way Halloween is celebrated in American culture and the way Día de los Muertos is celebrated in Mexican culture as "evidence" in how the two have nothing to do with each other. Again, that is like saying if I hang a wreath at my door at Christmas and you hang mistletoe, then we are clearly talking about two different holidays (what? For real?). The article goes on to erroneosly cite that the differences are about the meanings of the celebrations. It says Halloween is to celebrate the gruesome, macabre and spooky things. Whereas, Day of the Dead celebrates death as another stage of life. And the article also states that both Halloween and Day of the Dead are offshoots of the Catholic's All Saints Day and All Souls Day. The article alludes to Halloween being celebrated 1 day and Day of the Dead celebrated for 2 days. ALL WRONG!
So here's the REAL SCOOP. Our ancestors, and more specifically the Celts, celebrated SAMHAIN. Samhain translates to "End of Summer," or "Summer's End." The weather was tragically cold by the end of October and so November was the beginning of Winter. The Celts had 4 fire festivals they celebrated through the year--Samhain being one of them. So this is the Summer's End festival as well as the Celtic NEW YEAR (yep, I wrote that correctly). They were celebrating the Harvest of their crops and animals that would carry them through the death of the land (Winter). This is how the living and dead concept get entwined during this time.
The Celts believed there was death in life, and life in death. New Year's Eve as Samhain represented a point that existed outside of time and space. This is when they believed the veil between our world and the dead was the thinnest and they could see into other points in time (past and future) as well as interact with the dead. It was believed the dead could assist the living in spiritual and practical matters. This is why many forms of divination are done and associated with Halloween. It was custom to leave food at the table as a welcoming gesture to the departed. Now, at the same time dead relatives are roaming the land, so were Faeries. The Celts believed in these mischevious spirits that roamed the land as well, and it was believed if they did not find food too then mishcief would ensue (ah, now we're seeing the Trick or Treat connection).
The Celts began this festival at sundown and continuded for 3 days: October 31, November 1, and November 2nd. A THREE DAY CELEBRATION.
So what about the Christian connection?
Christianity began its rise in Rome between 14 and 37 C.E., but wouldn't take total control for another 300 years. By 41 C.E., Claudius accomplished the conquest of Britain. There are Romans and Celts scattered throughout the villages. The Romans celebrated a Harvest Festival as well around the same time (November 1st), called the Festival of Pomona. The Celts didn't have much trouble blending the holidays together as they were around the same time. We fast forward 200 years and Constantine the Great declares the Roman Empire a Christian one, and the Celtic religion starts to die off literally as the Romans murder the Druid priests and priestesses (hey, it was the Christian thing to do).
The Catholic Church made up new myths thinking if they made the Holiday scary they could put a stop to it. The clergy taught the peasants that faeries were really demons. Celtic women were the keepers of family traditions and lifestyle so these "wise women" that insisted on adhering to Samhain beliefs were called witches (now we have our witch and Halloween connection). The Church officals also thought "Samhain," was a mispronunciation of Samuel. Samuel was a Pagan Deity in the bible from the Semitic Sammael, meaning God of the Underworld. So now we see the Samhain and Devil connection.
The Church officials still had problems. Those pesky Celts would not give up their holidays or many of their folk practices. So what do you do? Well, if you can't beat them (since murder didn't completely work) then you "join them." So YULE changes to Christmas, OIMELC changes to Easter, and SAMHAIN changes to All Hallows Eve (history will warp the rest and make people believe Christians started it all and clearly it worked as cited in said Dumb Girl articles and countless others).
May 13 was the original date of ALL SAINT'S Day. Again, to supplant Pagan beliefs, Pope Gregory III, in the seventh century, changed the date to November 1. All Soul's Day falls on November 2nd, and in the Roman Catholic Church was a day to offer prayers and alms to assist the souls that were stranded in Purgatory--the inbetween place. Which in my book series is THE NEXUS (I had to get a plug in. It's not like I have a whole website). The Eve of All Hallows Day became All Hallows Even and then evolved into Hallowe'en, and then HALLOWEEN.
Halloween and Día de los Muertos both celebrate the passing of our loved ones and our ancestors. Celebrate it however you want. If dressing up in revealing costumes makes you appreciate life...go for it (I never object to seeing hot bods)! Or if you want to decorate a grave or attempt to commune with the dead, then you should. Remember you can and should celebrate for 3 days. HAPPY NEW YEAR!