From Spirts to Jack-O-Lanterns

Pumpkins with faces, scaring each other, dressing up, giving away candy, does any of this serve a purpose? Halloween is a holiday favorite of kids all over the United States, but what does it mean? On October 31st children dress up as monsters, witches, movie characters, and any other creature imaginable. They run from house to house yelling “Trick or Treat” and receive free candy. It is a holiday that seems to have no meaning except the pure want of sugar. On the other hand, El Dia de los Muertos, a holiday celebrated in Spanish countries, is full of meaning. It is celebrated over a span of three days and is how they honor their dead. So, did Halloween ever have a purpose? Does it still?

Although the meaning may be hidden, they both have their history. Halloween was created by the Celts who celebrated Samhain, when the ghosts of the dead were thought to return to earth. This time of year marked the end of summer, the harvest, and the beginning of the cold, dark winter, which they associated with death. On October 31st, they believed the boundary between the living and the dead was blurred, space and time were suspended, and the spirit and living world could come together. On that day, disembodied spirits from the past year would come back looking for living bodies to posses for the coming year. This was believed to be their only hope for the afterlife. Because the living didn’t want to be possessed, they would extinguish their fires to make their homes seem cold and undesirable. The villagers would then dress in all sorts of ghoulish costumes and parade around the town making noise and being as destructive as they could. Their desire was that this would frighten away spirits looking for bodies. However, in Spanish countries they do not wish to scare the dead away at all. El Dia de los Muertos translates into English as “The Day of the Dead”. This is a holiday celebrated mostly in Mexico, Latin America, and Spain. El Dia de los Muertos is a traditional holiday that is not a sad time, but a time to remember and rejoice. It is a holiday that emphasizes death as part of the cycle of life. El Dia de los Muertos started when the Catholic feast of All Soul’s Day merged with Indian rituals of death. Catholic religious practices include All Saint’s Day, on November 1st, and All Souls Day, November 2nd. Because the Day of the Dead is part Catholic, the celebration runs from October 31st through November 2nd, thus including All Soul’s and All Saint’s Day. Celebrations honoring loved ones who have died or el Dia de los Muertos can be traced back as far as ancient Egyptian times. Unlike Halloween, it is a holiday that still has many traditions today that it did many centuries ago.

Today Halloween is celebrated very differently than the way the Celts celebrated, or rather tried to frighten away the spirits. It is now a holiday mostly for the children. They can still dress up as a scary creature, but a lovable cartoon or movie character is also an option. When the festivities at school are over they rush home to get ready to collect candy. Once they are dressed and ready to go, they walk up and down their street or neighborhood going door to door. A favorite thing to say when reaching a front door is “Trick or Treat”. After screaming this as loud as they can, the homeowner will open the door and put candy into their waiting bags. This is repeated house after house until the kids are satisfied. Another Halloween ritual is carving a pumpkin or Jack-O-Lantern. The top of the pumpkin, with the stem, is cut and removed. Then the seeds and pumpkin “guts” are taken out, revealing a smooth, orange inside. A face is chosen next and carved into the front. When the face is finished, a candle is placed inside and lit to shine on Halloween night. While most Halloween activities are during the evening or at night, el Dia de los Muertos activities last for three days. On October 31st, in anticipation for the honored guests, families will clean and decorate their deceased loved one’s grave site. Cleaning the site includes pulling weeds, making repairs, painting, sweeping, and scrubbing the gravestone. As part of decorating the site, items that would be familiar to the returning soul are placed along with flowers, wreaths, or paper streamers. Some items that would be placed on the grave or altar are yellow marigolds, a glass of water, candles, toys, religious pictures, personal mementos, incense, or food. If nothing is offered, both adults’ and childrens’ spirits are believed to go away weeping. An altar at a family’s house may also be constructed. Altars in the home are most commonly decorated with candy, flowers, photographs, the deceased’s favorite foods and drinks, fresh water, and a picture of the departed relative. To help the deceased find their way home and to their altar, candles and incense are also burned. In the evening, families travel to the altar with flowers, candles, blankets, and picnic baskets. Some also bring guitars and radios. Because families will spend the whole night in the cemetery, special all night burning candles are lighted, incense is burned, and food is offered until dawn. Childrens’ spirits are expected to arrive just before dawn on the first of November, but only for a few hours. On November 2, everyone is invited to morning mass at church. Family members and friends mark the departure of spirits by blowing out and removing candles from the altars. On November 4th, all the decorations and altars are removed. In contrast to Halloween, el Dia de los Muertos involves love, love that needs care, and care that requires time.

Another major difference between the two holidays is who’s involved. Halloween, for the most part, is a child’s holiday. The kids are the ones dressing up, collecting candy, and having parties. The adult’s main role is just supervising and handing out candy. El Dia de los Muertos, on the other hand, is a family holiday, for the living and the dead. An altar for the deceased is constructed by the whole family and the entire family goes to church and spends the night in the cemetery. Even when they are dead, they are all involved. In the graveyard, altars are made for grandparents, parents, and children. They are constructed for the deceased of any age.

In conclusion, they both have histories; histories that are important and histories that have changed a lot or hardly at all. Halloween is completely different than what it used to be. It started out as dressing up to scare away the spirits of the dead and is now dressing up to receive candy. Completely the opposite, is el Dia de los Muertos. The Day of the Dead is still a major holiday in Spanish countries and still holds as much meaning as when it was first celebrated. So, Halloween did have a purpose, but today, if it still serves a purpose, most people have gotten so caught up in what it has become that few know what it used to be.





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BrettyBoop123 said...
Oct. 23, 2008 at 2:38 pm
Hey, NEW ARTICLE
 
Mrs. D. said...
Oct. 17, 2008 at 10:06 am
Dear Court, Way to go with your information and your writing "voice." I am proud of you!
 
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