Hallow holidays celebrate the dead – Halloween, Dia de los Muertos remembers souls of dead
Each year on Oct. 31, scary, skimpy and strange costumes make their way out of the closets, pumpkins are carved and everything gets a little bit spooky. But the holiday, which originated in the Catholic Church, is traditionally the start of four celebrations for the souls of the dead.
Halloween — All Hallow’s Eve, All-Saint’s Day, All-Soul’s Day and Dia de los Muertos, are all holidays that stemmed from Catholic tradition and have been adapted by various cultures over time into the holidays we know today.
Katie Goodson, campus minister at St. Augustine’s Catholic Church in Moscow, said the holidays began with All-Saint’s day and All-Soul’s day — two holidays that focus on prayer for the souls of the dead.
“The Catholic Church, we believe in Saints and we call anyone who’s in heaven a saint. They go through a process called canonization, and when they go through that process they’re Sainted … basically that means we know for sure they’re in heaven,” Goodson said. “All-Saints Day … we celebrate all the saints in heaven that don’t have a specific day we celebrate.”
All-Saints Day is celebrated on Nov. 1, in conjunction with All-Souls Day on Nov. 2.
“All-Souls Day, which some people call the Day of the Dead, we remember all those that have died and pray for them that they will quickly enter heaven,” Goodson said.
The Catholic holidays made way for the development of the tradition of Halloween, or All-Hallows Eve.
“In our church we can start our celebrations the night before, like Christmas Eve and Christmas and Holy Saturday and Easter,” Goodson said. “Halloween was like the beginning celebration but it has since turned into Halloween.”
Martin Carrion, a professor in the Department of Modern Languages and Cultures, said the difference in the holidays is the way they are celebrated and not what they are celebrating.
“In reality both Halloween and All-Soul’s day do stem from the Christian tradition that was there in Europe and then arrived in the new world,” Carrion said. “The difference is in the sense that a person that lives in Italy is that their tradition will be very simple in that they will probably go to mass and pray.”
Carrion said the easiest way to differentiate between All-Souls Day and Dia de los Muertos is the influence of indigenous peoples, such as the Aztecs on the traditions of those who celebrate Dia de los Muertos.
“(Europeans) won’t go to the cemetery and they won’t bring food and build altars for the dead — that is tradition that stemmed from the indigenous cultures,” Carrion said.
Irena Crookston, chair of the Department of Modern Languages and Cultures, said Dia de los Muertos is a celebration of a person’s life and their soul moving on rather than a fear of death and evil, which she said is what Halloween is focused on.
“The day of the dead is a Mexican holiday. It is a time to remember and honor loved ones in a festive fun way,” Crookston said. “It’s not a really scary thing, it’s a fun thing. It’s more of a party situation — it’s kind of laughing at death in its face.”
Crookston said that in the cultures she is most familiar with — French and Italian — those who celebrate All-Saints and All-Souls day spend their time visiting cemeteries and praying for the souls of loved ones. She said the holiday is comparable to Memorial Day in the United States.
“The biggest difference for All-Saints is we’re celebrating holiness. We’re celebrating people who have lived a holy life and have given everything to the Lord and are now celebrating in heaven,” Goodson said.
Goodson said Halloween tends to celebrate the opposite.
“Halloween celebrates being scared of evil and so people dress up to hide or to scare it away. I think the biggest difference is that All-Saints is really about hope. Hope of the life we can have, hope of heaven and I would say Halloween at its root is about fear — our fear of death, our fear of evil and our inability to fight it.”
Carrion said it is easy to see how Dia del los Muertos and All-Souls Day are related because they developed from the same Catholic traditions.
“You can see how both are related in the sense that in the Christian tradition there is this memory to the dead. But definitely where it differs is in the whole ritual of building an altar for the deceased where you would have objects of the deceased and candles and food offerings,” Carrion said. “It is no accident that certain holidays also were at the same time as the Pagan holidays.”
Carrion said that although the modern Dia de los Muertos is a celebration of the life of the dead, in the traditional Roman Catholic ceremony this is not the case.
“We are talking about not really a celebration but a day where you join in penance,” Carrion said. “That’s the very origin of that day — a day where you pray for the souls of friends and family because they may be in peril of eternal fire. So really the root of that tradition is a day to pray for eternal rest and salvation, not so much a celebration of their lives.”
Carrion said it is important and interesting to know the differences in the holidays as well as the way they are celebrated.
“It’s a difference of culture and tradition,” Carrion said.
Kaitlyn Krasselt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org