Musement takes a look at ten different Day of the Dead festivities around the world.
Although all cultures have honored the deceased since the beginning of time, rites and customs around the world are as diverse as they are interesting. Here’s a look at how ten different countries celebrate Day of the Dead.
1. Día de los Muertos, Mexico
In Mexico, Day of the Dead falls on 2 November. This festivity of pre-Hispanic origin is so significant that it received Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity status. It goes hand in hand with the goddess of death, Catrina, a character created by political illustrator José Guadalupe Posada. Altars and offerings are found all around, and gastronomy also plays a part in this holiday: pan de muertos (bread of the dead) and calaveras dulces (sweet skulls) are prepared in honor of the deceased.
2. Boon Para Wate, Thailand
In Thailand, the Day of the Dead is known as Boon Para Wate and takes place between May and July. The celebrations are spread over three days: the first day features a parade with music during which the youngest play jokes and on the second day, the torches are extinguished to symbolize the end of the procession. On the last day, the monks recite the last reincarnation of Buddha.
3. Chingming, China
Chingming, or Tomb Sweeping Day, is the Chinese celebration to venerate the dead. It takes place from 4 – 6 April, though it can run longer. During this time, the graves are cleaned and per tradition–which forbids lighting fires–cold food is served. Chingming is also the festival of light and rebirth, welcoming spring.
4. Halloween, United States
The iconic Halloween, which has crossed borders and been adopted by a number of countries, is celebrated on the night of 31 October. It is a pagan festival with Celtic and Roman origins in which sacrifices were made to the gods. On “All Hallows Eve”, Americans dress up in costumes and children go from house to house “trick-or-treating” to collect candy. Pumpkins, cobwebs and bats are typical of the holiday, also celebrated in Canada, Ireland and the United Kingdom.
5. Mahalaya Amavasya, India
The Mahalaya Amavasya is the Hindu equivalent of the Day of the Dead. In an effort to evoke the spirits, ceremonies are held and the goddess Durga is prayed to honor the deceased and chase away demons. The date of the festivity changes each year, always falling on September’s new moon.
6. Día dos Finados, Brazil
Día dos Finados, or the Day of the Finished, falls on 2 November, during which Brazilians visit the graves of their loved ones and make offerings in the form of flowers and candles. In fact, it is a celebration very similar to the one in Spain, since it is the fruit of the Portuguese legacy that Brazil still preserves today. Contrary to the other more unbridled celebrations in the South American country, the Día dos Finados is a day of recollection as families spend time together to remember those who are no longer here.
7. Obon, Japan
Contrary to what one might think, the Day of the Dead is not celebrated on the same day all over the world. The Japanese, for example, do so in August, on the Obon or lantern day. They make offerings in the form of lamps, which then end up in the river to guide the spirits with their light.
8. Samhain, Ireland
In Ireland, 31 October is the day of the Samhain, a feast of pagan origin that took place to celebrate the end of the harvests. It later became known as the night of the dead and Irish immigrants brought this holiday with them to the was exported to the United States. During this night, celebrants lit bonfires and put on masks to drive away evil spirits, hence the fact that costumes are an integral part of the American celebration.
9. Pchum Ben, Cambodia
The Cambodian equivalent is called Pchum Ben, a fifteen-day festival that takes place in September or October according to the Khmer calendar. It commemorates the opening of the gates of hell so that some souls return to roam among the living so Cambodians leave food out to calm them.
10. Barriletes Gigantes, Guatemala
The Hispanic tradition of Todos los Santos is present in Guatemala, although its most particular festival is that of the giant kites during the first two days of November. Having originated in Santiago Sacatepéquez, the festival consists of throwing kites into the air on a hill near the cemeteries. By way of competition, groups of friends work for weeks to prepare their kites, putting lots of effort into each design.