What do candy, costumes, sugar skulls, and marigolds have in common? It honestly seems like the answer may be nothing, but these objects are more similar than you may think.
Halloween and the Day of the Dead are both among my very favorite holidays, but I always felt they were so different from one another in what they celebrate for them to be so close on the calendar. While one holiday associates the dead with spooky ghost stories, the other respects them and allows people to cherish the memories they once shared with the deceased.
I asked myself why these holidays were so different in their approaches and found that the answer goes back centuries. Each holiday has a similar history, but different roots.
Halloween came about 2,000 years ago when it was derived from a Celtic agricultural festival, Samhain, which celebrated the day ghosts return to Earth. The Celts wore costumes to “ward off” evil spirits, resulting in the Halloween tradition of dressing up in costumes, according to History.
Later, when the Romans took over the majority of Celtic territories, they established their own holidays with similar attributes. One holiday commemorated the dead, while the other commemorated their goddess, Pomona.
After Christianity was adopted by the Roman Empire, Pope Boniface IV established All Saints’ Day in May to honor saints and martyrs who passed away. A couple centuries later, All Souls Day — also known as All-Hallows Day, thus making the day before All-Hallows Eve — was adopted by a French monastery and decreed to be celebrated in memory of deceased loved ones on November 2nd every year.
All Saints’ Day was moved to November 1st by Pope Gregory III in conjunction with All Souls Day. They were both established to diminish the Celtic’s pagan holiday; nevertheless, the pagan and Christian holidays have similar traits, such as celebrating with costumes and parades. In light of this history, Halloween should not be identified as a “satanic” holiday like many people suggest.
Although All Saints’ Day is not widely celebrated in the states, it is still celebrated among many Catholic-dominated countries such as France, Germany and the Philippines.
Now you may be asking yourself, “What does the Day of the Dead have to do with these other holidays?”
About 3,000 years ago on the other side of the world, the Aztecs celebrated a version of “El Dia de Los Muertos” throughout the month of August, according to the Episcopal Church of St. Martin. When the Eastern world began colonization and Catholicism took over, All Saints’ Day and All Souls Day merged to bring us what many celebrate today during the end of October and the first two days of November: the Day of the Dead.
During the Day of the Dead, saints are not necessarily celebrated. Instead, the arrival of the spirits of children and adults are commemorated over the course of the holiday.
Although the holiday is mainly observed in Latin-America, immigrants have brought the practice to the U.S.
Today, ofrendas — or offerings — for the dead are not only hosted in private homes, but are also sponsored by local organizations as a community activity. Organizations like Semillas, several local businesses, and churches sponsor these events in Chattanooga.
Although Hallows Eve was originally intended to honor the dead, we now associate Halloween with horror and spooky ghost stories due to the ghosts who are said to roam the Earth on the night of October 31st. In contrast, the Day of the Dead, All Saints’ Day, and All Souls Day simply celebrate them being here among the living.