The Memory Trifecta
The Memory Trifecta
These next few days are my most favorite of days in the year. Yesterday was Halloween, today is "Dia de Los Santos" or All Saints Day mixed with Día de Los Angelitos (Day of the Little Angels) and November 2 is Dia de Los Muertos.
Halloween as we know it is now synonymous with the Monster Mash, dressing up in costumes, carved pumpkins, and a plethora of candy and treats. As with anything, society has commercialized this holiday, but Halloween has a deep history that goes back many years. The word “Halloween” literally means "hallowed evening," and was known to early European celebrators as All Hallows' Eve. Halloween originated with the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced sow-in), which was celebrated on the 31st while other accounts suggest November 1. Not much is known about the actual festival itself or the rituals that may have taken place. I think it probably revolved around food and dancing, recognition to higher beings for the bounty of their harvest and asking for protection during the winter months. Smarter people than I, suggest celebrators of Samhain would light bonfires where the people gathered to burn crops and animals as sacrifices, they would wear costumes and attempt to predict the future. Alternate theories suggest Samhain marked the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter. This oncoming passing of the season provided the opportunity to relight their hearth fires (which they had extinguished earlier that evening), from the sacred bonfire to help protect them during the coming winter and because pagans love a good party, they added this to their annual festivities.
Time went on, and people had some fun; however, commercialization was imminent. Hello Romans. By 43 A.D., the Roman Empire had conquered the majority of Celtic territories, and in the four hundred years that they ruled, two festivals of Roman origin were combined with the traditional Celtic celebration of Samhain. “The first was Feralia, a day in late October when the Romans traditionally commemorated the passing of the dead. The second was a day to honor Pomona, the Roman goddess of fruit and trees.” In the eighth century (609 A.D. to be exact), Pope Gregory III designated November 1 as a time to honor all saints; soon, All Saints Day incorporated some of the traditions of Samhain and the Roman festivities, and it was the 8th-century commercialization of the holiday. With this sweeping “Pope Legislation” All Hallows' Eve was recognized as October 31 and All Saints' Day began on November 1, which both holidays both paid homage to (guess what), saints ("hallows" = saints).
All Saint’s Day
All Saint’s Day honors and recognizes all of the saints of the Christian church, many of which were martyrs. The church sets this day aside to celebrate over 10,000 recognized saints. All Saints Day begins with a vigil which originated with the Antioch Church. The nighttime hours of All Saints are devoted to prayer and fasting. The Catholic ceremony for the day is a solemn one and includes the observance of Mass, followed by prayers offered to the Virgin Mary and all the saints.
Día de Los Angelitos
Now if we travel over to the new world when the Catholic Spanish arrived in Mexico. In order to get the “heathen” natives to convert to Catholicism, they fused some of the Aztec beliefs structures of Mictlán with the above mentioned Catholic holidays of All Souls Day and All Saints Day. According to the Aztec's, Mictlán was considered the underworld for the dead and they celebrated for two days believing that the souls could return briefly. Día de Los Angelitos happens at midnight on the 31st of October and giving these children one full day to spend with their loved ones. "It’s said the spirits of the children are so eager to come back to the land of the living, that they run ahead of the adults, who arrive a night later."
Dia de Los Muertos
Finally, we end with a bang, and Dia de Los Muertos starts. In all of my previous talk of commercialization, this one tradition has blown up in pop culture. You can find sugar skulls on just about anything. I digress, Dia de Los Muertos regardless is a beautiful holiday and tradition. It’s an occasion for remembering and celebrating those who have passed on from this world. The dead are celebrated with a feast, drinks, and dancing. Those of us that are still in this plane of existence have the opportunity to treat those family members and friends as honored guests in our homes and our hearts. It is a beautiful time to remember those we have lost, recount their most embarrassing displays of humanity and tell those stories that light up our faces and warm our hearts. It is a time to laugh and to be grateful for having the time and ability to know them. Tears may fall on occasion, but we are given an opportunity to feel blessed for having them in our life.
We all have a very short time on this earth, be one percent better than you were yesterday. Please don't be afraid to love that person who brightens your days, laugh just a little bit louder at the silliness of life, and feel more love in your heart for yourself and your fellow humans. The great Carlos Castaneda quoting his teacher Don Juan Matus said "In a world where death is the hunter, my friend, there is no time for regrets or doubts. There is only time for decisions.”
Did you know that Halloween almost didn’t make it across the Atlantic with European expansion? When the Puritans settled the Americas, their buckles were a little too tight, and they loathed pagan celebrations and their roots. However, God blessed us with the Irish and Scottish for a reason, once Irish and Scottish immigrants began to arrive in America in more significant numbers, the holiday made its way back into the zeitgeist (hooray) and eventually evolved into the holiday we all know and love.