Halloween is believed to be one of those days when the lines between the natural and the spiritual world blur and spirits can cross over. People across the world celebrate occasions where they honour their dead and take the blessings of their ancestors. While some make it into a religious affair, others celebrate it lightly to help ease the pain of losing a loved one. Here’s how parts of the world honour their dead in different ways. (Also read: Spooky Halloween traditions and how they started; find out)
El Día de los Muerto (Day of the Dead)
This day is Mexico’s All Saint’s Day and All Souls’ Day and is celebrated annually on November 2. Bigger than Christmas in the country, it is a day to celebrate and not to mourn. People erect altars on this day and offer tributes to the deceased. The interesting thing is that these altars are not really a place of worship but where things that were a favourite of the deceased are kept as an offering to them, including food, toys, and even fashion magazines. Grinning skeletons are a hallmark of this festival and masks are worn by people who take part in the feasting, dancing and singing.
This festival finds its roots in the story of Remus and Romulus, twin brothers and wolf boys. The ancient Romans believed that observing this festival would cast the malevolent spirits of their ancestors out of the house. To cleanse the house, the elder of the house had to wake up at midnight and wash his hands thrice. He had to walk barefoot throughout the house and throw beans over his shoulder nine times while chanting, “haec ego mitto; his redimo meque meosque fabis.” This translates as “I send these; with these beans I redeem me and mine.” It is believed that Romulus started this ritual to ward off the spirit of his brother Remus whom he had killed for jumping over a wall.
This Hindu festival is observed for 15 days, wherein a person honours his deceased ancestors by daily offering food to them. According to Hindu mythology, when the soul of warrior Karna reached heaven, he found nothing to eat except gold. The warrior asked Indra where the pantry was and he was told he could only eat only as he had never offered food to his ancestors in his lifetime. After much discourse, Karna was allowed to visit earth for 15 days to offer food and water to his ancestors. And, thus, the Hindus follow certain rituals prescribed by the holy texts and offer food to their ancestors during this time.
It is a Chinese festival when families go to the tomb of their ancestors and clean them. That is why the festival is also called Tomb-Sweeping Day. People offer food and joss paper (ghost paper or spirit paper that is burnt in traditional Chinese worship rituals of the gods) to the ancestors, which are believed to be very valuable in the afterlife.
It is an eight-day festival in Nepal, in which a procession of cows is taken out in the centre of the town, led by families who lost their loved ones in the past year. Boys dressed as cows are a common sight during this festival, which is a light celebration and acceptance of death. The cow is a holy symbol in Hinduism and is considered to guide the deceased in the afterlife.
Chuseok is a three-day festival in South Korea, wherein people give thanks to their ancestors for good harvest. On this day, Koreans journey back to their ancestral homes and perform rituals early in the morning, such as making a special rice cake, called Songpyeon, which is offered for ancestors. Tables laden with sumptuous fare, called as Chuseok tables, are kept to offer food to the ancestors, which Koreans believe is eaten by them. In North Korea, it is celebrated to pay respect to their leader, Kim Jong-il.
All Souls’ Day and All Saints’ Day
All Saints’ Day honours saints and martyrs and on the day after it, All Souls’ Day people commemorate the souls that are in purgatory. The prayers are believed to burn the small sins of the dead and help them in the process of sanctification to enter the gates of heaven.