barack-jack-o-lantern_Feliz Día de los Muertos! Todos los Santos! Allerheiligen! La Toussaint!

How are you celebrating this weekend?

You probably already know that the name comes from "All Hallows' Evening," or the eve of All Saints. Historically, this celebration combined the change from summer to winter with the honoring of the departed souls. Some cultures prefer a somber, dignified atmosphere, others like Mexico have a hell of a party.

In the USA you'll have noticed the pumpkin, black and orange decorations for the past couple of months. Thanks to the powerful influence of pop culture, the carved pumpkin, or jack-o'-lantern, has also found its way into remote areas like Japan and India. Many Americans go a little crazy when it comes to decorating their houses and gardens this time of year, but if you think this is over the top, wait until Christmas. You ain't seen nothin' yet, my friend. ;-) Tonight, children go trick-or-treating, which means they dress up in costumes and expect to receive candy from the neighbors.

In Germany we have a similar tradition on St. Martin's Day on November 11th, except the kids don't usually dress up, but carry an actual lantern and have to sing a song or recite a wee poem to get a treat. I don't remember threatening debauchery for not getting sweets, either. I do remember collecting many apples and mandarins though.

In Celtic countries the celebrations pre-date today's All Saints, and may include harvest festivals. Many still light a candle for the dead, and wear costumes or masks to ward off evil spirits. One theory to explain the curious overlapping of an originally pagan ritual with the Christian holiday of All Saints, by the way, is the church in its early days scheduling its holidays along the same time frames as ancient pagan rituals. This made convincing heathens to take on the new faith a lot easier.

When living in Barcelona, Spain, I remember fabulous costume parties at my friends' house on their terrace, and eating copious amounts of coca. That's a cake with anise seeds and orange glaze and it tastes oh so good. For the nuttier types, this is the season of street vendors underlining your shopping excursions with the aroma of roasted chestnuts.

Here are some photos of our Día de los Muertos in Mexico two years ago, where we enjoyed a parade and theatrical performances. Their cemeteries are the only ones I know that don't look sad, but are covered in flowers and decorations of all the colors of the rainbow.

For expats spending traditional holidays in different cultures that may never have heard of your type of celebration, I encourage you to plan ahead and bring pertinent decoration material and special food ingredients with you on your trip. This will allow you to continue with your traditions, maintain a sense of stability in the lives of your children, and maybe even educate your neighbors about your own personal history and culture. Wherever you are, whatever you do, this is an opportunity to remember those who have left this earth. Visit graves, light candles, put out food for the lost souls, and let's celebrate the life we still have while we're at it.

Carpe diem!

Til next week, have a good one! Thanks to Cooper/Michael for the pic.

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