Halloween, All Saints Day and el Día de Los Muertos: Ever-Evolving Festivals

The COVID pandemic forces us to adapt to the times, especially on the ever-evolving festival of Halloween.

I find it amazing that Halloween is based on a festival that dates back thousands of years and, despite the many cultural integrations and changes over the centuries, we are still excited to celebrate this odd holiday here in Canada, as are people in many other countries.

According to History.com, “The tradition of Halloween originated with the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, when people would light bonfires and wear costumes to ward off ghosts. In the eighth century, Pope Gregory III designated November 1 as a time to honor all saints. Soon, All Saints Day incorporated some of the traditions of Samhain. The evening before was known as All Hallows Eve, and later Halloween. Over time, Halloween evolved into a day of activities like trick-or-treating, carving jack-o-lanterns, festive gatherings, donning costumes and eating treats.” (source: https://www.history.com/topics/halloween/history-of-halloween)

All Saints Day has evolved differently in other countries.  I must highlight Mexico’s beautiful and intriguing “Día de los Muertos” [Day of the Dead] – a three-day event, where people disguise themselves as “Catrina,” a Mexican representation of death, and take part in the “Catrinas Parade.”

In a clever comparison of North American Halloween to Mexico’s Día de los Muertos, USA Today reporter William Cummings observes that  “[North American] Halloween’s connection to the afterlife has largely been stripped from the holiday. The aspects of the holiday that do touch on death — such as the prevalence of ghosts, ghouls and other spirits in costumes and decorations — tend to focus on our fear of mortality and the spookiness of the unknown. 

“The Day of the Dead, on the other hand, focuses squarely on death (it’s in the name after all). But rather than treating it as something dark and frightening, the Day of the Dead is largely about laughing in the face of death, as represented by the ubiquitous skulls and skeletons known as calaveras and Catrinas, which are often depicted dancing or playing music. And though it is about remembering lost loved ones, the holiday is more a time to celebrate their memories than to mourn their loss.”  (source: https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2017/10/30/no-dia-de-los-muertos-isnt-mexican-halloween/762225001/)

Whether you are celebrating memories or revelling in the accumulation of candy, I think it is especially important to celebrate Halloween in some creative way this year, since kids’ normal activities have been so critically altered by the COVID restrictions.

This year, Halloween at my house will be celebrated a little differently. Normally, like many families in Toronto, I take my children trick-or-treating on the evening of October 31st. My children enjoy quickly accumulating a bag full of candy, and I enjoy a quick visit with many of my neighbours. However, due to the COVID-19 restrictions this year, we are going to try something a little different: we are going to mix Halloween with Easter!  Instead of the traditional trick-or-treating routine, we are going to have a scavenger hunt in our front yard, where the kids will have to find their candy. We are inviting only one neighbour household to join us and, of course, we will all be respecting social distancing and…wearing “masks!”

I think this is a great reflection of how the COVID pandemic forces us to adapt to the times, especially on this ever-evolving festive day!

Happy Halloween from Loretta Murphy Translations!