Halloween and the Day of the Dead

November 17, 2020  |  By Peg Kern
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Halloween used to be a predominantly American holiday – and it still is to tell the truth. But from my first visit to Italy in 1990, when my Italian friends wondered what that thing was they saw in American movies with costumes and candy – to now, Halloween has grown in popularity across the globe. It’s no wonder really: as the globe “shrinks” our festival and holidays bleed into other cultures and vice versa. We see this often on our international cooking vacations and tours.

Still, even though Halloween is more known throughout the world, it really is not celebrated much outside the U.S. Not so the other holidays this week: All Saint’s Day (an important feat day in Roman Catholic countries) and la Dia de los Muertos (the Day of the Dead), a major Mexican (and to a lesser extent Central American) holiday.

All Saint’s Day is a mostly religious holiday honoring, as the name suggests, all the saints of the Catholic church. (The Eastern churches celebrate All Saint’s Day in spring or early summer, after Pentacost). Besides some markets and stores being closed, it’s celebrated mostly in the church, not in people’s homes, although the following day, All Soul’s Day, is celebrated in some regional traditions.

Dia de los Muertos decorations
Our friends and partners in Mexico this week will celebrate the Dia de los Muertos by making ofrendas, or altars honoring deceased friends and family. In addition to pictures of the departed, the ofrenda will usually have candles, marigolds, and the favorite foods and beverages of the deceased. Also making an appearance at the ofrendas are the famous sugar skulls that have become the symbol of this Mexican holiday.

I have two young children, so Halloween is a pretty big deal for us, but I’m happy to have made the Dia de los Muertos celebration part of our family tradition as well. Their school makes a large ofrenda, with each child brining in a picture of a lost loved one, and we’ll replicate that at home. As fun as Halloween and trick-or-treating are, I’m not a fan of reducing the week to a lot of candy eating – so it’s nice to bring a bit of meaning back into this ancient festival.

Candles honoring the dead
What are your Halloween traditions? Do you celebrate the Day of the Dead?

By Peg Kern

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