Welcome to part 2 of this post about the celebrations that are tied to the fall harvest! Now that these holidays are upon us, I thought it would be fun to do a post on the differences and subtle connections of the holidays found at the end of October and the beginning of November. The origins of these holidays, while not necessarily “witchy,” do have a foothold in the pagan practices which tie into the research I have done thus far in my Origins of Witchcraft series.
Last week, we discussed Samhain & Halloween and if you missed the post, you can check it out at this link. While Halloween has ancient ties to Samhain, it has evolved into more of a community holiday focused on parties and merry-making. The holidays we will discuss today, have ties to the religious aspect of Samhain, specifically the tradition of honoring those who have passed.
In 2020, at the time of this post, the holidays land on the following dates:
- Samhain – Gaelic festival marking the end of the harvest season – Oct 31 – Nov 1
- Halloween – “All Hallows Eve” part of the triduum for the Christian Church – October 31
- All Saints Day – “All Hallows Day” celebrating saints known and unknown – November 1
- Day of the Dead – Prayer and remembrance for those who have died – Oct 31-Nov 2
Let’s dive in, shall we?
All Saints Day
All Saints Day, officially known as the Solemnity of All Saints (and also called All Hallows’), is celebrated on November 1st in parts of Western Christianity, and on the first Sunday after Pentecost in Eastern. This event is in honor of all the saints, known and unknown, and commemorates all those who have reached heaven. Not to be confused with All Souls Day, which is held on November 2nd, which honors the faithfully departed who have not yet reached heaven and who are believed to be in purgatory with the guilt of lesser sins in their souls. The period of time between October 31 to November 2 is sometimes also called Allhallowtide.
The origin of the festival of All Saints in the West dates back to around 610 AD when Pope Boniface IV consecrated the Pantheon in Rome to the Blessed Virgin and all the martyrs. It is believe that date was selected to tie in with the Feast of the Lemures, which was when restless spirits were put to rest. In the mid-eighth century, Pope Gregory III established November 1 as the day dedicated to the saints and their relics, and the May 13th date was largely abandoned. The date in November is thought to have been selected to tap into the existing festival of Samhain and allow for a smoother conversion to Christianity for the pagans by including rituals that were familiar to them.
In the Catholic Church, All Saints Day is a Holy Day of Obligation, which means that mass is required unless you are unable to attend due to an illness. The following day, All Souls Day, is not a Holy Day of Obligation, however, it is this day more than the other that ties in with the traditions of Samhain as well as the Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead.
Some of the customs from around the world include:
- Spain and Mexico – Offerings are made on homemade alters
- Portugal – Children go door to door and receive cakes, nuts and pomegranates
- Many countries including Austria, Belgium, France, Italy and American cities such as New Orleans – Take flowers to the graves of deceased relatives
- In countries such as Poland, Sweden, Finland and Romania – Families light candles and visit the graves of deceased relatives
The traditions of our ancient ancestors live on in the celebrations and rituals that we adhere to today. Much like Samhain, All Saints Day and All Souls Day are religious dates that allow us to honor our dead and continue to pray for their safe transition to their final destination.
Here are some resources that may interest you:
Day of the Dead
Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is dedicated to remembering and honoring those who have passed. The brightly colored costumes have nothing to do with the American holiday of Halloween, as it is entirely focused on the afterlife and reminds us that there is nothing to be afraid of. The holiday in Mexico, and celebrated in communities all over the world, has origins in ancient Aztec, with Catholic influences brought to the region by the Spanish Conquistadors. The blending of the two cultures and their traditions creates a colorful and meaningful way of honoring the dead.
Women paint their faces evoking “La Catrina” a rich skeleton lady in a floral hat, based on an image sketched by Mexican artist Jose Guadalupe Posada in 1910. According to the article I found by Nicole Chavez of CNN, this image was meant to “mock Mexico’s upper class and their negative attitude toward indigenous people.” It is possible that the skeleton image goes a little further back though, as Mictecacihuatl, the Goddess of Death, is also depicted as a skeleton in a dress. In Aztec mythology, she helps her husband rule the Underworld, with her role specifically to guard the bones of the ancestors and preside over the festivals held in honor of the dead. I believe it is for this reason that the skeleton symbol is so prevalent in the 3-day celebration.
This Aztec holiday originated in southern Mexico, and celebrates the memory of the family members who have passed. It is also believed that during this time, the passageway between this world and the next is open so that loved ones are able to come back and visit. Much like the Celt tradition of “dumb supper” during Samhain, the Day of the Dead participants welcome their guests by setting foods out on their ancestral alters. Foods such as sugar skulls, sweet rolls or even the person’s particular favorites are set out on display. These Oferendas (alters) are to memorialize those who have passed and family members believe the souls will feast on the essence of the foods from the alters.
Marigold flower petals are put on the walkways for the dead as it is believed that the fragrance will help them find their way to the alter that has been set up for them. The alters can either be set up in the home, or near the gravesite, and can include candles, pictures, and personal items in addition to the foods that are placed. Water is also left for the deceased to quench their thirst along their journey.
This is also a time when the cemeteries are visited, the gravesites are cleaned, and new decorations are placed. People make their way to the gravesites every year, keeping the memory of the deceased family member alive in their hearts and minds. The video that follows is short, but gives you a great taste of the rituals that take place during this holiday.
Here is more interesting stuff I found while researching:
As I mentioned before, each of these four holidays represent the transition that is both mystifying and revered by every culture on the planet. Each holiday, in its own way, celebrates one’s life and the soul’s progression to the next place on their journey. It is something we all face from the first day we take breath, a human journey that, in the end, connects us all. The ways we all choose to honor that journey really doesn’t seem so different when you break it down. Many of each culture’s rituals has threads in other traditions that bind us all in the human experience. We all have more in common than we think, at least that’s how I choose to see it.
So, I would like to know the stories from your part of the world, do you celebrate any of the holidays I mentioned in these posts? Leave your comments below, I would love to hear from you! In the meantime, have a blessed harvest holiday however you celebrate! XO