Festivals that Honor the Dead

Celebration of Life
Festivals that Honor the Dead

Festivals of the Dead

The culture of celebrating or remembering life and death is different depending on a number of factors like the country you live in or religion you practice. Countries like Mexico has a festival called “The Day of the Dead” which is one of the more commonly known festivals to honor the dead, however there are many other festivals that commemorate and remember the dead.

It exists in almost every culture and despite being different the one aspect that remains constant is the mutual respect and tributes that are made to those that have passed.

So what are some of these festivals and how do they differ across the world?

Festivals of the Dead

All Souls and All Saints Day

What is All Souls Day?

All Souls Day occurs on November 2nd each year and is a day that commemorates and remembers the faithful Christians and Catholics who have passed away. More specifically speaking, it is a day that remembers the souls in purgatory.

What is All Saints Day?

All Saints Day occurs the day before on November 1st and is a day that remembers the faithful souls of saints in heaven.

Is All Souls Day the same as All Saints Day?

According to Catholicism, the soul of a person that passes can go to one of three places:

  • Heaven - the ultimate destination where one transcends to the highest state of being where one can exist in total peace and harmony with God. This is a reward for devout Catholics and Christians who have lived their life on earth serving God.

  • Hell - a place of punishment and torture where dead souls go to pay the price for their mortal sins with the Devil.

  • Purgatory - A place less spoken about however thought to be where most people go who are free of mortal sin however are in a lesser state of transcendence so their souls need to be cleansed before they can progress into heaven.

All Souls Day commemorates those souls in purgatory whereas All Saints Day remembers those souls that went straight to Heaven.

Where is All Souls and All Saints Day Celebrated?

It is celebrated in much of the western world, however more so in countries with largely Christian and Catholic populations like the Philippines, Spain, Mexico, Guatemala, Poland, Austria and Haiti.

Origins of All Souls and All Saints Day

In the 11th century, Saint Odilo, Aboot of Cluny in France, decreed that the day after All Saints’ Day be set aside to honor the departed by making an offering for the poor. Particularly those whose souls were still in purgatory. This spread to other monasteries and eventually the western church.

All Souls Day

Day of the Dead

What is the Day of the Dead?

The “Day of the Dead” or “Día de los Muertos”, is a holiday that celebrates the dead throughout Mexico on November 2nd and is tied to All Souls Day.

What happens on Day of the Dead?

On this day, friends and family gather to remember their loved ones who have passed away. They do not spend their time mourning, but rather celebrating the life of their deceased loved ones. As such, you will see people dress up and wear masks, make-up, and costumes and play festive music which many people dance to.

Additionally, the day is celebrated with Altars (Ofrenda), Skulls (Calavera), food of the dead and colored tissue (Papel Picado).

Origins of the Day of the Dead

It was thought to have originated thousands of years ago with the Aztecs and other tribes who thought it was disrespectful to mourn the dead. Their view was that the dead were not gone, their memories and spirits were still very much alive.

Day of the Dead global recognition

In 2008, the tradition was listed in the Intangible Cultural Heritage list of Humanity by UNESCO which ensured protection of the event with worldwide promotion to grow it’s awareness.

Day of the Dead

Ghost Festival

When is the Hungry Ghost Festival?

Known as the “Ghost Festival” or “Hungry Ghost Festival, or in Chinese - Zhongyuan Jie , Gui Jie or Yulan Festival, this event is celebrated on the 15th night of the seventh month of the Chinese lunar calendar (14th in certain parts of South China).

How long is Hungry Ghost Festival

The Hungry Ghost festival lasts for the entire seventh month of the lunar calendar which is also referred to as the “Ghost month”. In particular, the ghosts are most active and hungry on the 15th which is the actual day of the festival.

What happens in Ghost Month

The belief is that on the first day of the month, hell opens up its gates and ghosts roam free into the world to find food and entertainment. As such, many people don’t like to be alone on any night in case they get haunted and attacked by an enemy ghost.

The origins of the Hungry Ghost Festival

The origins of the hungry ghost festival is very old. It dates back to when one of Buddha’s disciples gained a higher knowledge and power which allowed him to search for and find his deceased mother who looked very thin and fragile.

He tried to feed her but he can not as she does not exist. His concern for her well being prompted him to ask Buddha for help. Buddha advised him to offer food and gifts to the monastic community at a specific time which happened to be the 15th day of the seventh month of the lunar calendar.

Hence Hungry Ghost Festival was born.

Hungry Ghost Festival