Honoring the dead, honoring our past, and merging cultures
Today is a holiday – to Catholic’s, it is All souls’ day, which is associated with Halloween and the traditions from the Celtic celebration of the dead, Samhain. Today is also Dia de los Muertos, the Mexican day for remembrance that is it is celebrated as a combination of the Spanish Allhallowtide and the Aztec month-long celebration honoring the king, but especially the queen, Mictecihuatl, of the underworld.
To research, I started with Samhain. I wrote a blog about Samhain and it’s significance. This is the origin of one of my favorite holidays, Halloween. I knew it had Celtic roots but I had limited knowledge of Samhain itself. So, the blog on Samhain is from the origin, the seed, and now the roots of the tree that is Halloween.
I thought I missed Dia de los muertos , that it was November 1st, but fortunately – today is the day, November 2nd, two days after Halloween.
Why two days after Halloween? Because Dia de los muertos is a relatively new holiday with very old origins. The Celtic holiday, Samhain, was a celebration of slowing down and of remembering the dead. It was when the the dead and living could commune and divination is most often attempted. Samhain is one root, Samhain was adopted to base the Allhallowtide season that is a three day celebration – All Hallows’ Eve, All Saints Day, and All Souls’ Day – October 31, November 1, and 2nd.
So in 621 AD, when the church created All Saints day, they used Samhain to set the date, November 1st and they borrowed aspects of the Celtic holiday to get buy-in from the former Celts. This tradition crossed the ocean to North American and morphed inti what we know as Halloween.
This tradition also crossed the ocean to the Southern Hemisphere with the Spaniards and landed amongst the Aztecs. The Aztecs had their own traditions. They had 20 days of rituals from late July to mid August that were to honor the queen of the underworld, Mictlantecuhtli.
This is where the Celtic/Christian holiday of All Souls’ Day merged with the Aztec traditions. The newly-created holiday made a three-day long celebration to honor the dead during the Christian holiday that honored the dead it combined the Aztec with the Spanish (which was a combo of Christian and Celtic).
So Dia de los muertos is a Mexican holiday that claims Aztec, Catholic, and Celtic lineage.
The common thread that connects these holidays is death. These holidays all ask us to slow down to take time to remember those that are no longer living and to recognize that one day, we too will face the end of life.