Day of the Dead

Photo courtesy of Latincouver

Time to commune with the dead. Across the world, festivals are celebrated throughout the year to honour those who are no longer living. On Nov. 1, join in the Día de los Muertos celebrations offered at the Museum of Anthropology (MOA) and Latincouver.

Seasonal celebrations can be jovial, spiritual, or, at times, sinister. Here is a look at two traditions.

Dia de los Muertos

Día de los Muertos, the Mexican Indigenous festivity dedicated to the dead, was inscribed in 2008 on the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage.

Visitors to the MOA event will be able to see an altar created by local Mexican artist Paloma Morales, and contribute photos and mementos of their loved ones to the altar. Morales will be giving a workshop for those interested in building their own altar.

Performances by Mariachi Los Dorados and Casa Meshiko-Mexica Aztec Dance Group are on the slate.

Los Dorados, a 12-piece mariachi ensemble consists of a collection of musical talent playing Mexican traditional music, with their own unique northern twist, under the leadership, since 2003, of bandleader, vocalist and guitarist Alex Alegria.

Casa Meshiko-Mexica Aztec Dance Group is dedicated to preserving the traditions and rituals of the pre-Hispanic culture of Mexico. Traditionally, Aztec dance acts as a conduit to a higher energy source – creating a unity that proclaims its spiritual connection with the Sun, the Earth, and all of the elements. Before they dance, performers pray to the six directions by singing a song in Nahuatl, the ancient language of Mexico.

The dance group will give a workshop, and participants are invited to join them: as they face the different directions with song and the blowing of a conch. The ritual honours the directions; the different elements of nature, the ancestors, the elders, medicine people; and all the participants.

MOA encourages visitors to attend in costumes.

From Samhain to Halloween

Historically observed in Galicia, Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man, Samhain (held Nov. 1) is a Gaelic festival marking the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter, or the darker half of the year. Celebrations, following the Celtic calendar in which days began and ended at sunset, begin the evening of Oct. 31.

Neopagans celebrating Samhain.

Believed to have Celtic pagan origins, Samhain is first mentioned in Irish literature from the 9th century, and is associated with many major events in Irish mythology. According to early literature, Samhain was celebrated by feasts and large gatherings. Ancient burial mounds were open, serving as portals to the Otherworld. During Samhain, in order to ensure the survival of people and livestock through the winter months, spirits were appeased with offerings of food and drink. The souls of dead ancestors were said to return to their homes. A place was set at the family table for them during a Samhain meal. Mumming and guising were part of the festival from at least the early modern era, and people went door-to-door in costume reciting verses in exchange for food. The costumes could have been a way of imitating, and disguising oneself from the Aos Sí, a supernatural race in Celtic mythology.

Many believe several of the modern secular customs of All Hallows’ Eve (Halloween) were influenced by the festival of Samhain. Yet other scholars argue that All Hallows’ also influenced Samhain itself.

If the jury is still deliberating, the ghosts will surely be out, whether in Latin America or down the street.

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