Day of the Dead and North America

Topics: Halloween, Day of the Dead, Samhain Pages: 6 (2231 words) Published: August 3, 2006
Depending on your family background you may call it Shadowfest, Samhain Festival, Teng Chieh, Los Dias De Los Muertos, All Hallows Eve, Hallowe'en, or Halloween. According to Skal (2002), "all histories of Halloween inevitably wind back to . . . the death of summer and the beginning of the Celtic new year". Even our religious background has an affect on how or if we celebrate this holiday. I will compare the traditional North American celebration called Halloween to Mexico's Los Dias De Los Muertos, and Ireland's/Celtic's Samhain Festival.

It is believed that the Irish brought Halloween to North America when they fled the Potato Famine of the 1840's. The Irish were not the only ones that contributed to what North America calls Halloween. The English immigrants brought their traditions and merged them with the Irish. The combination of these two cultures is the beginning of what North America calls Halloween (Mackinnon, 2005). In North America we put lit pumpkins in our widows and call them jack-o-lanterns. The jack-o-lantern, is a hollowed out pumpkin with a carved face. A candle is then placed inside to illuminate the face at night. The name jack-o-lantern is derived from a combination of British and Irish folktales. The soul named Jack ‘O Lantern was barred from heaven, and hell, and forced to wander the earth with his single ember in a lantern to light his way (Australian Media Party Ltd, n.d.). Originally the Irish folktale had Jack using a hollowed out turnip to carry his ember. When the Irish came to North America turnips were hard to find, so they used pumpkins, which were plentiful (Mackinnon, 2005). North America also has the tradition of trick-or-treat, in which, children dress up in costumes and go from house to house soliciting candy or other treats. Each homeowner is greeted with a costumed child stating "trick or treat", which suggested that a prank would be played on the homeowner unless they gave a treat. Trick-or-treating is thought to have it roots from 9th century in England. In early England Christians would go door to door on All Souls day, November 2, and beg for 'soul cakes' (bread made with currants). The person begging for the cake would promise to say a prayer for the donor's dead relatives. It was believed that this would speed up their dead relative's soul passing into heaven (Mackinnon, 2005). The tradition of trick or treat changed in the 1970's. In the fact many parents started going with their children and pranks became less destructive and almost all eventually went away. The reason for this change is partially attributed to the rumors of homeowners getting their revenge by poisoning the candy (Lanford, 2006). Mexico's holiday called Los Dias De Los Muertos (The Days of the Dead), is compared to North America's Halloween. They celebrate this holiday very different from the North American tradition. Los Dias De Los Muertos, is directly related to the returning of the Monarch butterflies, which they believe bear the spirits of the departed. The spirits of their relatives are honored during Los Dias de los Muertos (Holidays on the Net, 2005). In Mexico, it is a festival that begins on October 31st and ends on November 2nd. Sue Creamer from MEXonline states, "The traditions and myths concerning the dead vary from region to region, however the belief underlying all ceremonies is that the dead (or their spirits) return to earth on this day to be with their families and loved ones" (Creamer, n.d.). The roots of this holiday are a combination of Europe and Mexican history. The beliefs of today's Mexican are based on the complicated blended cultures of Aztec, Maya, and Spanish invaders, layered with Catholicism. The invading Spaniards arrived to find a two-month celebration honoring death, the fall harvest, and the New Year. The Spaniards thought that death is tragic, and it should entail prayer and considered the celebration of Los Dias De Los Muertos to be...

References: King, J. (2006) Mexico connect [Electronic Version]. Los Dias De Los Muertos. Retrieved June 12, 2006, from cient_cultures_with_the_church
Lanford, B
Mackinnon, T. (2005). Bacon magazine [Electronic version]. the origin of halloween. Retrieved June 12, 2006, from
Miller, C (2003). Los Dias De Los Muertos. Retrieved June 13, 2006, from
Salvador, R
Santino, J. (1982). The library of congress, the American folklife center The Fantasy and Folklore of All Hallows. Retrieved June 13, 2006, from
Skal, D
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