Thursday Thirteen #8
Halloween instantly conjures up visions of blood, gore and things that go bump in the night. Around the world, though, it connotes many different things. Here are some interesting ways in which certain countries celebrate the occasion.
1. Here in the Philippines, we go to the cemeteries to clean the graves, light candles in memory of and pray for the souls of dead relatives. November 1 has become a public holiday. On All Saints' Day, Catholics attend church services in honor of the saints, the martyrs and those who have died for the Catholic faith. More recently, we have also embraced the western practice of going trick or treating and holding Halloween parties although it is not as widespread as in other countries.
2. In Great Britain, special soul-cakes are made to welcome friendly spirits. In some parts, Halloween is known as Mischief Night - a night set aside for mischief making. People would take doors off their hinges, get thrown into ponds, or taken a long way away. The black cat was also considered to be good luck whereas a white cat was considered to be bad luck. Some parts of the UK nicknamed Halloween Nutcracker Night or Snap Apple Night. Families would sit before a great fire in the hearth, roasting nuts and eating apples, telling stories and playing holiday games.
3. In China, the Halloween festival is known as Teng Chieh, in which food and water are placed in front of photographs of relatives of people. Bonfires and lanterns are lit to light the spirits path back to earth.
4. In Czechoslovakia, chairs are placed by the fireside. There is a chair for each family member and one for each family member's spirit.
5. In Japan, the O-Bon festival (July 13-15 or August 13-15) celebrates the memory of the dead relatives. On the first day of O-Bon, people decorate their loved ones' graves with fruit, cakes, and lanterns. On the second day, spirit altars or, as they are referred to tamadana, are assembled at home. Atop a woven rush mat stand the ancestors' memorial plaques, tempting vegetarian dishes, and cucumbers carved to represent horses on which the spirits are invited to ride. On the third day, whole communities gather for the bon-odori, a hypnotic, slow dance that moves in concentric circles or multiple lines. Hundreds of people often dance together. As evening falls, tiny paper lanterns are set adrift on river or sea: these omiyage gently light the spirits way back to the "other shore".
6. In Italy, they make cakes in the shape of beans. These cakes are called Beans of the Dead. In Southern Italy, families prepare a special feast for the souls of the departed on All Souls' Day. The families would set the table with a bountiful meal. Then they would all go to church to pray for the souls of the deceased. They stayed there all day, leaving their home open so that the spirits could enter and enjoy the feast. When the family came home to find that their offerings hadn't been consumed it meant that the spirits disapproved of their home and would work evil against them during the coming year.
7. In France, people celebrate All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day but not Halloween. French bellmen would walk through the streets warning, "The spirits are about to arrive!" Once everyone hears this, they would all hurry to bed and shut their eyes.
8. In the village of Igbo, Nigeria, the Odo Festival is held to mark the return of the dead (odo) to those still living. The festival has three stages. The first stage is observed with ritual celebrations and festivities to welcome those returning from the spirit world. The spirits stay for six or more months. Their departure is an emotional affair as they will not return for two years. There are Odo plays featuring different characters in costumes. Most roles are by men with women as chorus members and as spectators.
9. In Guatemala, it is the time when men dress up as the devil and playfully chase children through the streets. To bring the season to a close on December 7, people light bonfires in front of their homes. They would toss accumulated garbage and other debris onto these. In the city, fireworks explode in the night. This event is called the Burning the Devil or La Quema del Diablo.
10. Vu-Lan or Wandering Souls' Day is a festival celebrated by all Vietnamese. When a person dies, it is believed his/her soul goes to hell where it is judged and, depending on the person's behavior on earth, is sent to heaven or kept in hell. Souls in hell can gain release by the prayers of the living. Wandering Souls' Day is the best time for these rituals. Hell's gates are opened at sunset and the naked hungry souls fly out, returning to the family altars. Tables are spread with a meal for the ancestors and 'wandering souls', and incense sticks and votive papers are burned. This takes place in large rooms or outdoors so there is plenty of room for the 'wandering souls' who have no relatives, or whose relatives have forgotten them.
11. In Estonia, folktales tell of unsuspecting people who wander into village churches on All Saints' Day night only to find all the pews filled with ghosts who sit and kneel attentively while a ghostly priest celebrates mass at the altar.
12. Parentalia, the Roman holiday dedicated to honoring dead family, began precisely at the sixth hour on the thirteenth day of February and lasted a full nine days thereafter. These dies parentales or in English parental days, were not a spooky time for the average Roman citizen. Rather, these were days of obligation and feasting, quiet and respectful, introspective, like a wake. During the Parentalia, all temples were closed, weddings were forbidden, and governmental magistrates uncharacteristically appeared in public devoid of the insignia of their office. People visited their parents' and other relatives' graves, bringing offerings such as milk, wine, honey, oil, and spring water. Some brought sacrificial blood from the bodies of black animals. They decked the graves with roses and violets. "Dining with the dead" at the grave site, the celebrant would offer the traditional greeting and farewell of the holiday: "Salve, sancte parens", "Hail, holy ancestor.".
13. In Mexico, they bake bread and make candy in the shape of skull and crossbones, a casket, or a skeleton. People light bonfires, set off firecrackers, and hang lanterns on trees to guide the souls of the dead home. All Saints' Day is devoted to Los Angelitos - all the dead children. This is a prelude to November 2's Dia de los Muertos, Day of the Dead, a national holiday on which all the grown-up ghosts will be arriving in full force. The littler ghosts get a head start. To help them find their way back to the homes where they once lived, parents and still-living family members often shoot off firecrackers. In some parts of the country, they strew a path of flower petals from the graveyard to the front porch. Mexico's Dia de los Muertos Day of the Dead calls for happy all-day picnics beside the graves of dead relatives. At home, people assemble little altars called ofrendas, stocked with the departed loved ones favorite foods and drinks, their photos, and other memories, as well as candles and pungent marigolds, a flower long associated with death.
P.S. Please hop by my tenant's lilypad and give her a ribbit for me. You'll just love her sense of humor.
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