Halloween is thought to have originated in Ireland. “All Hallows Eve” was the night before the souls of departed loved ones would come back to roam on earth. People wore masks and costumes to hide themselves from angry or avenging spirits.
Some Austrian families leave bread, water and a light on to welcome the spirits of departed loved ones. The Chinese refer to Halloween as Teng Chieh. On that night, offerings of food and drink are placed before pictures of departed loved ones and lanterns light the path for spirits to return to earth. In Japan, the spirits of the dead are thought to return in mid-October. The Obon festival welcomes the spirits home with small fires, candles and lanterns to light their path. Bright red lanterns decorate the land and waterways, while families prepare special foods to welcome the spirits. On the last day of the festival, fires are lit to guide the dead back to their graves.
In the autumn, millions of monarch butterflies migrate to Mexico’s oyamel fir trees. The Aztecs believed the monarchs brought the spirits of departed ancestors back with them. Mexico’s Day of the Dead celebration is known world-wide as a celebration of the souls of the departed. This three day festival begins on Oct. 31 and ends on Nov. 2. During the festival, souls are believed to return to earth to commune with each other and the families they left behind. The living create altars adorned with pictures of the dead, flowers, and samples of their favorite foods. Incense creates an olfactory trail for the dead to find their way home.
The movie Coco offers a touching interpretation of Dia de los Muertos celebrations and beliefs. A few great children’s books about Dia de los Muertos are Dia de los Muertos by Roseanne Greenfield Thong, illustrated by Carlos Ballesteros, The Dead Family Diaz by P.J. Bracegirdle, illustrated by Poly Bernatene, and a Day of the Dead Activity Book by Karl Jones and illustrated by Steve Simpson. Remember, you have until Nov. 2 to celebrate!