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The Day of the Dead (Part 2)

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Observances outside Mexico

United States

In many U.S. communities with immigrants from Mexico, Day of the Dead celebrations are held, very similar to those held in Mexico. In some of these communities, such as in Texas and Arizona, the celebrations tend to be mostly traditional. For example, the All Souls’ Procession has been an annual Tucson event since 1990. The event combines elements of traditional Dia de los Muertos celebrations with those of pagan harvest festivals. People wearing masks carry signs honoring the dead and an urn in which people can put slips of paper with prayers on them to be burned.

In other communities, interactions between Mexican traditions and American culture are resulting in celebrations in which Mexican traditions are being extended to make artistic or sometimes political statements.

For example, in Los Angeles, California, the Self Help Graphics & Art Mexican-American cultural center presents an annual Day of the Dead celebration, that includes both traditional and political elements, such as altars to honor the victims of the Iraq War highlighting the high casualty rate among Latino soldiers. An updated, inter-cultural version of the Day of the Dead is also evolving at a cemetery near Hollywood. There, in a mixture of Mexican traditions and Hollywood hip, conventional altars are set up side-by-side with altars to Jayne Mansfield and Johnny Ramone. Colorful native dancers and music intermix with performance artists, while sly pranksters play on traditional themes.

Similar traditional and inter-cultural updating of Mexican celebrations is occurring in San Francisco,for example through the Galer?a de la Raza, SomArts Cultural Center, Mission Cultural Center, de Young Museum, and in Missoula, Montana, where skeletal celebrants on stilts, novelty bicycles, and skis parade through town. It also occurs annually at historic Forest Hills Cemetery in Boston's Jamaica Plain neighborhood. Sponsored by Forest Hills Educational Trust and the folkloric performance group La Pi?ata, the Day of the Dead celebration celebrates the cycle of life and death. People bring offerings of flowers, photos, mementos, mentos, and food for their departed loved ones which they place at an elaborately and colorfully decorated altar. A program of traditional music and dance also accompanies the community event.

 

Europe and elsewhere

Observance of a Mexican-style Day of the Dead has spread to Europe as well. In Prague, Czech Republic, for example, local citizens celebrate the Day of the Dead with masks, candles, and sugar skulls. Mexican-style Day of the Dead celebrations can also be found in Wellington, New Zealand, complete with altars celebrating the deceased with flowers and gifts.

Similar celebrations

 

Latin America

Guatemalan celebrations of the Day of the Dead are highlighted by the construction and flying of giant kites in addition to the traditional visits to gravesites of ancestors. A big event also is the consumption of fiambre that is made only for this day during the year."

The Brazilian public holiday of "Finados" (Day of the Dead) is celebrated on November 2. Similar to other Day of the Dead celebrations, people go to cemeteries and churches, with flowers, candles, and prayer. The celebration is intended to be positive, to celebrate those who are deceased.

In Haiti, voodoo traditions mix with Roman Catholic Day of the Dead observances, as, for example, loud drums and music are played at all-night celebrations at cemeteries to waken Baron Samedi, the god of the dead, and his mischievous family of offspring, the Gede.

Dia de los ?atitas (Day of the Skulls) is a festival celebrated in La Paz, Bolivia on November 9th. In pre-Columbian times, indigenous Andeans had a tradition of sharing a day with the bones of their ancestors on the third year after burial, however only the skulls are used today. Traditionally, the skull of one or more family members are kept at home to watch over the family and protect them during the year. On November 9th, the family crowns the skull with fresh flowers, sometimes also dressing it up in various garments, and makes offerings of cigarettes, coca leaves, alcohol, and various other items in thanks for the year's protection. The skulls are also sometimes taken to the central cemetery in La Paz for a special mass and blessing.

 

Flowers, including Mexican marigolds, used in the celebration of the Day of the Dead

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Asia

In the Philippines, the holiday is called Araw ng mga Patay (Day of the Dead), Todos Los Santos or Undas (the latter two due to the fact that this holiday is celebrated on November 1, All Saints Day), and has more of a "family reunion" atmosphere.Tombs are cleaned or repainted, candles are lit, and flowers are offered. Entire families camp in cemeteries, and sometimes spend a night or two near their relatives' tombs. Card games, eating, drinking, singing and dancing are common activities in the cemetery. It is considered a very important holiday by many Filipinos (after Christmas and Holy Week), and additional days are normally given as special non-working holidays (but only November 1 is a regular holiday).

 

Europe

In many countries with a Roman Catholic heritage, All Saints Day and All Souls Day have long been holidays where people take the day off work, go to cemeteries with candles and flowers, and give presents to children, usually sweets and toys. In Portugal and Spain, ofrendas (offerings) are made on this day. In Spain, the play Don Juan Tenorio is traditionally performed. In Spain, Portugal, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands, France and Ireland, people bring flowers to the graves of dead relatives and say prayers over the dead. In Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Lithuania, Croatia, Slovenia, Romania, Austria, Germany and Sweden, the tradition is to light candles and visit the graves of deceased relatives. In Tyrol, cakes are left for them on the table and the room kept warm for their comfort. In Brittany, people flock to the cemeteries at nightfall to kneel, bareheaded, at the graves of their loved ones, and to anoint the hollow of the tombstone with holy water or to pour libations of milk on it. At bedtime, the supper is left on the table for the souls.

 

Other similar cultural traditions

Many other cultures around the world have similar traditions of a day set aside to visit the graves of deceased family members. Often included in these traditions are celebrations, food and beverages, in addition to prayers and remembrances of the departed.

The Bon Festival (O-bon or only Bon) is a Japanese Buddhist holiday to honor the departed spirits of one's ancestors. This Buddhist festival has evolved into a family reunion holiday during which people from the big cities return to their home towns and visit and clean their ancestors' graves. Traditionally including a dance festival, it has existed in Japan for more than 500 years. This holiday is three days in August.

In Korea, Chuseok is a major traditional holiday, also called Hankawi. People go where the spirits of one's ancestors are enshrined, and perform ancestral worship rituals early in the morning; they visit the tombs of immediate ancestors to trim plants and clean the area around the tomb, and offer food, drink, and crops to their ancestors.

The Qingming Festival  is a traditional Chinese festival usually occurring around April 5 of the Gregorian calendar.

Along with Double Ninth Festival on the ninth day of the ninth month in the Chinese calendar, it is a time to tend to the graves of departed ones. In addition, in the Chinese tradition, the seventh month in the Chinese calendar is called the Ghost Month, in which ghosts and spirits come out from the underworld to visit earth.

During the Nepali holiday of Gai Jatra ("Cow Pilgrimage") every family where a family member died during the previous year makes a construction of bamboo branches, cloth, paper decorations and portraits of the deceased, called a "gai." Traditionally, a cow leads the spirits of the dead into the next land. Depending on local custom, either an actual live cow, or a construct representing a cow may be used. The festival is also a time to dress up in costume, including costumes involving political comments and satire.

In some cultures in Africa, visits to the graves of ancestors, the leaving of food and gifts, and the asking of protection serve as important parts of traditional rituals. One example of this is the ritual that occurs just before the beginning of hunting season.

Sources: encyclopedia.thefreedictionary.com


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