October 17, 2017 by Miller Funeral & Cremation Services Staff
Halloween, (or All Hallows’ Eve) has historically been a time of observing the change in seasons, from the abundance and light of summer to the eventual decay and darkness of the coming months. Metaphorically speaking, this transition has been equated with the faithful departed as a time to honor the dead.
What we know today as Halloween may have originated as a Celtic or Gaelic tradition. There are many countries, however, that have their own liturgical or ritual observation of the passing of light into darkness. While this may sound ominous, most of these annual death rituals are celebratory. They’re about memorializing or even speaking with the ancestors through prayers, offerings, costumes, parades, and music.
The team at Miller Funeral Services explores some of the most unusual and beautiful of these fascinating traditions.
Celebratory Death Rituals Around The World
Throughout the world, views of death and the deceased are varied. Some consider death in a somber and contemplative light, while others honor the deceased through exuberance and dance.
One of the most well-known traditions is El Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, which is celebrated throughout Mexico and South America. With its sugar skulls, bright marigolds, and an all-night vigil with the departed, this tradition is a wonderful examination of when cultures collide – from its pre-Columbian roots to its present-day Catholicism.
Throughout Asia, similar holidays that observe the passing of life include the Chinese celebration, The Hungry Ghost festival. Rooted in Daoism, the festival falls on the 15th day of the seventh lunar month and involves specific ceremonies to pacify the deceased and appease any of their former enemies through special offerings. Obon, which is celebrated in Japan, is a Buddhist holiday that honors the dead by cleaning and decorating graveyards and releasing thousands of lanterns across the sea to help the spirits return safely.
In Cambodia, P’chum Ben (“Ancestors’ Day”), celebrated on the tenth month of the lunar year, is a time to offer food and other gifts to the ancestors and to the monks living in the local pagoda. Among the tribes of Malaysia, Ari Muyang (also known as Ancestors’ Day) is a time when individuals dress in elaborate costumes and honor the dead through gifts and food. Interestingly, the date of Ari Muyang changes each year, based on dreams that are interpreted by the village elders.
The recent revival of the traditional pagan Samhain vs. the corresponding Christian version – All Saints Day, has resulted in a blending of traditions worldwide. From the Gaelic lighting of the harvest bonfire to liturgical celebrations of Western Christianity, the departed are celebrated and remembered with a mix of heartfelt and solemn reverence, as well as joyful revelry.
Modern Day Celebration Of The Ancestors
As we embrace multiculturalism and our many traditions and faiths, it’s understandable why we wish to define our own unique ways of celebrating our departed loved ones. These celebrations can offer solace, comfort, and meaning.
Some ways to celebrate and honor the departed might include:
- Cleaning up the grave sites of your ancestors and adding flowers or other beautiful items.
- Hosting a feast in honor of the deceased, with favorite foods and beverages that they once loved.
- Participating in a mass or festival that aligns with your beliefs.
- Sharing funny or interesting stories about the departed with your family and loved ones.
- Creating an altar or memorial with your ancestors’ pictures, letters, and cherished items.
There are many beautiful and touching aspects to these celebrations of life and death. No matter how you might approach the coming of Halloween and the many incarnations of honoring those who have gone before, we hope the evening will be a special one for you.
If you have any questions or would like suggestions about memorial ideas, we’re here for you. Please contact us.