Celebrating Halloween and the Day of the Dead

Jack-o-lanterns

Lanterns

The carved pumpkins, fancy dress and Trick or Treating activities popular in North America have spread to Europe, says Dr Veronica Heath, who teaches on our 19th century European Novels module. However there are also very different traditions unique to Great Britain (such as 5th November Bonfire Night), to other European countries and to Latin America.

In France, Halloween is more popular among children than adults. Dr Marjorie Gehrhardt, who teaches 20th century French history, says that since the 1990s, you can see groups of children dressed up on 31st October, going around the neighbourhood asking for sweets sometimes late into the evening as the following day is a bank holiday. On 1st November, known in France as La Toussaint [All Saints’ Day], many people take chrysanthemums to the graves of their loved ones. Traditionally the Day of the Dead is 2nd November, but this is a working day, so families tend to gather on 1st November instead. The story goes that as chrysanthemums resist well to the cold and frost, they were used to flower the graves of fallen soldiers after the First World War.

Our postdoctoral researcher on Translation and NGOs, Dr Wine Tesseur explains that ‘in Belgium, families get together on 1st November and eat pancakes, waffles, and/or beignets. On 2 November, there is usually a requiem mass. If someone from your family has passed away in the previous months, a little wooden cross with their name is put on a special notice board in the local church. On 2 November, after mass, you can collect the cross and take it home’.

In Austria, Halloween is more of a children’s celebration, whereas all ages celebrate Allerheiligen [All Saints’ Day]. Like in France, 1st November is a bank holiday and most people go to visit the graves of their loved ones on that day. They light white candles that sit in red glasses, and leave fresh flowers. Another tradition, our German Lektorin Elli Königshofer tells us, is for godparents to give their godchildren a striezel, a sweet pastry containing raisins, shaped into a braid (traditionally women would cut their braided hair in sign of mourning).dia-de-los-muertos-03-full

In Italy too, people remember the dead, visit their graves and eat special food as part of Ognissanti (All Saints Day, on 1st November) and I Morti (2nd November), our language coordinator Enza Siciliano-Verruccio explains. It is the time of the year when the first caldarroste [roasted chestnuts] are eaten and many regions have their own local specialties, like the Frutta di Martorana [a fruit-shaped sweet] in Sicily.

Our Spanish teaching fellow Ivan Ortega, tells us that in Spain too, people go to cemeteries to tidy up their relatives’ graves and bring fresh flowers. Spanish people also have food traditions, such as huesos de Santo and buñuelos de Viento, which are two typical sweets eaten during these festivities.

ev_3_la_catrinaIn Mexico, both 31st October and 1st November are big celebrations. Dr Catriona McAllister, who teaches Latin American history and culture, describes Día de muertos traditions for us: ‘On 2nd November (coinciding with the Catholic festival of All Souls Day), Mexico celebrates the Day of the Dead. The festival offers the opportunity to remember and honour departed loved ones and has its origins in pre-Hispanic traditions that were later combined with Catholic practices. Celebrations can take place over several days, and it is traditional to visit cemeteries where loved ones are buried and to prepare an altar at home. Altars usually contain a range of objects including flowers (particularly cempasúchiles, or marigolds), the favourite food of the departed loved one, candles, objects belonging to the departed, photos and decorated sugar skulls’.

If Halloween, pumpkins and trick-or-treating are becoming more popular, the countries whose cultures and languages we study in the Department of Modern Languages and European Studies also have their own fascinating traditions!