Celebrations of the dead around the world

Celebrations of the dead - Person in full face paint for Dia de los Muertos

Around the northern hemisphere, many different cultures take part in celebrations of the dead at the point where summer turns to autumn. Among these are: Samhain (Gaelic), Dziady (Slavic), Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead)(Mexican), Hop-tu-naa (Isle of Man), Halloween/All Souls Day (European and American), Calan Gaeaf (Welsh).

Pre-Christian cultures in Europe ushered in the dark days of autumn and winter with these festivals, many believing that during this time of transition, spirits could walk the earth. There is still debate about why this coincides with the Christian three-day remembrance of the dead (All Hallow’s/Saints’ Eve, All Hallows’/Saints’ Day, All Souls’ Day), which has even been blended with Mesoamerican culture in the Mexican Dia de los Muertos.

Every celebration varies in its specifics, however most involve fire and light - either used as guides for spirits or as a way to ward them off - offerings to the dead in the form of food and drink, and special prayers. Halloween and Dia de los Muertos have been popularised and have evolved alongside modern life with their own, more recent traditions.

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