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Samhain is a ancient gaelic festival that signifies the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter. On this day each year, it was believed that otherworldly spirits and the souls of the dead could cross over into the human world, so offerings were left outside for them and an empty place was left at the dinner table. Huge bonfires were lit on hilltops to hold back winter’s darkness and help predict the future. Practitioners dressed up in costume to disguise themselves from the visiting spirits and traveled door-to-door performing songs or poems in exchange for food. These pagan practices inspired some of the Halloween traditions we know and love today!
Many neopagan and Wiccan communities across the Ireland, the UK, and the United States still observe the practices of Samhain today. Large Samhain festivals are held each October and November across the New England region, where many Irish immigrants first settled.
The “Celebrate Samhain Festival” is held annually in Nashua, NH and offers metaphysical and magical presentations and workshops, live celtic music, and a ritual fire.
Salam MA, known for its large Wiccan and witch community, holds the “Salem Witches Magic Circle”, a Halloween ritual in the spirit of Samhain honoring loved ones and celebrating the final harvest, at the center of Salem Common.
Dia de Muertos
Today: Chicago, San Diego
Photo by Miguel Bruna on Unsplash
Dia de Muertos History
Dia de Muertos or “Day of the Dead”, is a multi-day holiday originally celebrated in Mexico. The holiday is a time for families to come together and remember their ancestors and lost loved ones. Families build private alters, called “ofrendas”, that feature family photos, sugar skulls, flowers, and the favorite foods of the deceased. Food and other offerings are also left at family grave sites, where people from all over the region come to gather.
Dia de Muertos Today
Today, Dia de Muertos is practiced across Mexico, other Central American countries, and parts of United States with large concentrations of Mexican-Americans. Chicago and San Diego are two centers for celebration, with city-wide festivals, popular parties, cultural shows, and art exhibits.
The National Museum of Mexican Art, located in Chicago, transforms into a space to honor loved ones at their “Day of the Dead Xicago” event. Practitioners and outsiders alike are invited to enjoy music, food, traditional decorations and art activities as well as a city-wide ofrenda projected on the museum’s exterior!
Various San Diego areas hold their own Day of the Dead festivities, with Encinitas and City Heights holding some of the biggest celebrations in the city! The streets overflow with the live performances, community altars, art workshops, dancing, and traditional food and drink. North Park also holds a “Day of the Dead Festival”, celebrating Mexican food, drink, crafts, and culture and teaching visitors all about the holiday.
All Saints Day
Origin: Catholic European Nations
Today: New Orleans
Photo by Anton Darius
All Saints Day History
All Saints Day, also known as “All Hallows Day” is a holiday rooted in the Christian faith that recognizes the saints both known and unknown. It is a time where practitioners attend a special Mass and give thanks and celebrate the bond between those in heaven and those on earth. The holiday was introduced by the Catholic church in the early 8th century to replaced Samhain, which was seen as a sacrilegious, pagan festival. Over time, the celebration spread across Europe to Western Asia, and eventually in the United States, with different religious sects holding the holiday on different days and instituting new traditions.
All Saints Day Today
Today, All Saints Day continues to be celebrated across the world in most predominantly Christian countries. In the United States, most church goers attend All Saints Day Mass no matter their city, but no city takes All Saints Day as seriously as New Orleans, LA. The city has a rich religious history, and the ever present cemeteries around the city give it’s residents a special connection to the dead. Masses and processions are held among the aboveground tombs of the city’s famous cemeteries, and flowers and wreaths are left beside graves across the state.
NOLA’s official “All Saints Day Mass” is held at St. Louis Cemetery #3, and involves music and a blessing of the graves.
If you make the trip to St. Martinville, a small Catholic city on Bayou Teche, you can attend service at St. Martin du Tours, one of the oldest churches in the state where visitors still lay waxed paper wreaths atop each grave in an ancient All Saints Day tradition.