Saturday, October 31, 2009

All Hallow's Eve: Honoring the Dead

Although largely thought of as a candy and dress-up fest, Halloween coincides with other Holidays celebrated around the world.

In Italy, the Catholic Church celebrates the two days after Halloween, November first and second, respectively, as All Saints Day and All Souls Day. During this time, families visit the graves of loved one who have passed on; they bring flowers, candles, and ask Saints to protect them in the year ahead.

In Mexico, these two days are marked by a plethora of intriguing customs that vary widely according to the ethnic roots of each region. Common to all, however, are colorful adornments and lively reunions at family burial plots, the preparation of special foods, offerings laid out for the departed on commemorative altars and religious rites that are likely to include noisy fireworks. In some localities November 1 is set aside for remembrance of deceased infants and children, often referred to as angelitos (little angels). Those who have died as adults are honored November 2.

Many other spiritual traditions see Halloween – also known as All Hallows’ eve or Samhain – as a time when the veil between the living and the dead is thinned, allowing communications with ancestors and loved ones who have crossed over.

In some Celtic traditions, this date also marks the end of the spiritual year, and begins a new cycle of the wheel; it is common, during rituals, to hear practitioners wishing a happy new year to one another.

One of the common rituals on Halloween night is the “Silent Dinner”. A table is set up to include one or two places reserved for the souls of ancestors and loved ones who have passed on, and foods they have favored in life are often served. Name cards are placed in front of each place set, comprising the names of the living and the dead who will commune together. Once food is served, the living sit at the table - lights dimmed and sporting absolute reverence - and a small bell is rung three times to alert the dead that dinner is about to begin. Portions are served in every plate, including those reserved for the souls who are only present in spirit; the living begin to eat in silence, taking care of enjoying every bite of the food they are consuming, in honor of their ancestors. When dinner is over, the bell is rung again, to thank the ancestors and let them know they can leave. The food in the dead’s plate is usually taken outside to wild animals or carefully packed and delivered to the poor.

Although many attempt to attach an eerie image to the Silent Dinner, it is indeed a beautiful and peaceful occasion to connect to one’s roots, honor those who preceded us in this life, and come in touch with the souls who benevolently guide us in this life from the other side.

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